Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Please Don't Eat The Playdough

Playdough is a regular feature in my classroom. Playdough or a similar material is available every day. It’s one of the best manipulatives out there. It’s easy to manipulate, and is completely open ended. A few squishes, presses, and pulls, and it can be anything you want it to be.
I’ve use several different recipes, but my favorite is a cooked playdough (the recipe is at the bottom of the page) that is soft, and stays good for weeks. The problem is, some kids like the taste of it. I haven’t tasted it myself, but from the ingredients, I imagine that it tastes like a salty bread dough. This isn’t a problem with older children, but toddlers, twos, and even young three-year-olds sometimes put it in their mouths. And occasionally, there are children who repeatedly put it in their mouth through the morning as they’re playing.

So, what should I do if I don’t want the children to eat the playdough?

As I discussed ideas on education blogs and with some teachers I know, several interesting themes came up about young children eating/tasting/mouthing materials, that I wanted to reflect on in terms of how those ideas fit with my teaching philosophy:

If they’re eating the playdough, maybe they’re too young for you to give it to them.

Why not just let them eat the playdough, and look at it as another way of exploring materials?

Find ways to teach them not to eat the playdough, and don’t let them use it if they keep eating it.

I understand all three of these perspectives, but none of them fits with my goals for using playdough in my classroom, and my philosophy of how children learn how to interact with materials at school. Young children often use materials in a ways that need to be redirected by a teacher. Sometimes it’s for health or safety reasons – in this case, fingers and playdough in and out of mouths as the children play presents health concerns. Sometimes it’s about taking care of the materials – in this case, if the children mouth or eat the playdough, we don’t have it to use anymore. And there’s also the central goal of being at preschool – learning how to interact with the materials and environment in a way that is respectful to the other children in the group, and that facilitates learning. I want the children to be able to explore materials freely, but also to explore in ways that allow them to have the experiences that I’ve planned for them, and to reach the learning goals that I’ve set for them. Not giving playdough means they won’t have those experiences. Letting them eat the playdough changes the focus from the original activity to an eating activity. And “teaching” them not to eat the playdough, with negative consequences if they fail to follow my instructions, puts me in the position of policing their play, and takes away some of their ability to play independently.

A better choice is to choose materials that will scaffold the activity without needing my direct intervention. We know young children might rip book pages so we give them sturdy board books that can’t be ripped. We know they might pour out large containers of paint, so we give them small ones that aren’t filled to the top. So, I decided to create a playdough recipe that would send a sensory cue that “this isn’t for eating.” The materials teachers choose, and how they're presented can "tell" children how they can be used (read more here).

So instead of creating my usual playdough that looks and smells like cookie dough, I altered the recipe to make it look less like food, and so it wouldn’t taste good if anyone decided to put it in their mouth. I used green, red, and a little blue food coloring to give it a grayish-greenish color (almost the color of clay). And I added vinegar and lemon juice as I cooked it to give a faint (not overpowering) sour aroma and a strong sour taste if a child decided to eat it. I also put it out with loose parts the children hadn’t used before, instead of the rolling pins, cookie cutters, and plates that suggest food themed play.

There was lots of rich and varied play, but no eating.

 And here are the recipes…. The cream of tartar in cooked playdough acts as a preservative, so the playdough stays fresh for weeks. Vinegar does the same thing, so if you make the “not food” recipe, you don’t need the cream of tartar. Store either dough in a sealed container.
Cooked Playdough Recipe

2 cups flour
½ cup salt
2 cups water
2 tbsp. oil
2 tbsp. cream of tartar
Food coloring (optional)

Mix together in a pot, then cook while stirring until mixture becomes solid.

“Not Food” Cooked Playdough Recipe

2 cups flour
½ cup salt
2 cups water
2 tbsp. oil
2 tbsp. vinegar
2 tbsp. lemon juice
A few drops each green, blue, and red food coloring (to look gray)

Mix together in a pot, then cook while stirring until mixture becomes solid.

1 comment:

  1. Love the rationale behind your choice here. We have eating problems even with salty playdough as well, so I'll give this a try!