Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Preparing for Life with Slimey Motivation

Are you preparing young children for kindergarten?....or for life?

 At my family child care program, we focus on preparing for life.

 We solve problems, we share, we are kind and we practice self control.

We get our muscles ready for important tasks and use our imaginations so we can solve problems and be innovative.   

We discover that it's okay to mess up because we learn just as much through our mistakes as our successes. 

We explore our world and question and follow our curiosity until we are content, and sometimes ... even after! 

We test hypothesis's and challenge old discoveries just to make sure what we know to be true, is still true.

We ask for what we need in order to accomplish all of the above.

We look at the big picture...these are skills that will take us much, much further than kindergarten!
The best part?

We practice these life-long skills through play. 

Part of my job as an early childhood professional is to provide opportunities that motivate children to, unbeknownst to them, practice life-long skills. 

Are you interested in  a good motivator for polishing up the skills of sharing, using imaginations, practicing self control, grasping, squeezing, manipulating, inventing, problem solving, handling conflict and cooperating?

Natural clay.  Good old, slimey, messy natural clay!

The following photo shows not only muscles being strengthened and coordination being practiced, but terriotories being claimed.  Each child has access to a portion of the clay clump....notice how they each have staked their claim?  Alos...one child isn't so sure about this stuff...see the set of hands on the right?  They are hesitant hands just checking out this "stuff".
Simply plop the clay into a large container, add a splash of water to help keep the clay moist and some tools (ice cream scoops work REALLY well) then step back and observe young minds at work!

Clay offers a way for young children to organize themselves so they can work together sharing supplies and respecting each other's projects.
Organizing the environment BEFORE messy play begins provides security (some children need the reassurance that their once clean hands are not far away) and allows plenty of room for all to enjoy playing!  In this photo we see two buckets, both with a clump of natural clay, tools, sea creature beads and some plastic lizards and the purple hand washing bucket placed strategically between.  You control the environment, so the children can control the play!

Clay offers boundless potential.  There is no right or wrong way to explore clay.  It washes off of everything.  No matter how clay is explored the benefits are there.  Language, sensing, sharing, strengthening, coordinating, cooperating, organizing, discovering, imagining...it's all possible with clay.

My job is to motivate and observe.  After some exploration, I added two things, with no direction:  A cup of blue colored water and some pipettes....
Soon after the children dug in, I added a glass of blue colored water and some pipettes...just to see what would happen...
I stepped back and took pictures.  The cleverness of young children never ceases to amaze me!  It did not take long after the addition of colored water for a waterfall to emerge!
They pipettes combined with the clay created a problem to be solved.  The tip of the pipette easily filled with clay, and would no longer work.  It didn't take long for the children to work together to first of all figure out the problem and then, to solve it.  I could have easily stepped in and said "boys and girls, do not put the tip of the pipette into the clay, it will ruin the pipettes and they won't work anymore" -- but, there is very little learning in words alone.  Trial and error is a far better teacher.
Shortly after the addition of the blue water, a waterfall emerged from the clay!

The texture of the clay is smooth and slimey.  It is super fun to manipulate with one's fingers as the clay follows directions quite easily!

One of the benefits of playing in a bucket of clay for an extended period of time (over an hour in this case) on a windy day is "monster hands" -- how very exciting!!

Natural clay is great for those of you who struggle with messy play.  It doesn't hurt clothing, and it washes out of hands, hair and the driveway with ease. 

Here are some tips I have learned along the way:

1)  cleaning up clay is far easier when it is wet vs. dry.  Let the children help with the clean up!  It is play to them...not work!!

2)  store the clay in a plastic bag until the next time

3)  If the next time will be the following day, leave the clay in the container and put the whole thing into a big garbage bag and seal it.

4)  I bought my clay at Michael's Craft.  I got two 10 lb slabs for $8.99 each.  I used a 40% off coupon for one slab....so it was actually cheaper then that.

5)  you can use the clay again and again.

6)  After lots of play opportunities, you can let the clay airdry, then add water to it the next time you want to play for an entirely different experience!

Want more clay play ideas?  Read Plop Your Way to Amazing Clay Play!