The island complete with palm tree and coconut

Clay is Stronger Than Playdough

We see….a child who know how to wait and who has high expectations. A child who wants to show that he or she knows things and knows how to do things, and who has all the strength and potential that comes from children’s ability to wonder and to be amazed. A child who is powerful from the moment of birth because he is open to the world and capable of constructing his own knowledge. A child who is seen in his wholeness, who possesses his own direction and the desire for knowledge and for life. A competent child!             Carlina Rinaldi

“Clay is stronger than playdough”. That’s what Zach said to me. I said “Do you mean that playdough droops?”  “No” he said “It doesn’t droop, it just falls over.”  Which is, of course, very true.

The island complete with palm tree and coconut


And here is what he did with clay: he constructed a replica of an image from a book he had read a week before. Every detail. An island with a palm tree that has a coconut hanging from it, there is a turtle, a bird and a fish.

The image in Zach's mind that he re-created

So here is this boy comparing the relative characteristics of clay and playdough, and then perfectly re-representing an image that he was carrying around in his head…..and he is not yet three years old.

Zach sat working on his island for 30 minutes, all the while chatting with the adult beside him.  This adult recognized that Zack  “knows how to do things” and didn’t need to be ‘taught’ about clay, about playdough, or about sculpting.

How often in these moments do we adults take over, make suggestions, impose our ideas, show how it can be done? Maybe we should just be quiet and watch…..and the child will show us how it can be done.

About Kim

Kim is an admitted ECE geek. She and Danielle have bonded over their shared geekdom and have come to terms with it. She is a pedagogical facilitator working with educators in a number of early learning settings supporting and extending new thinking and practice. She loves reading, writing, talking and sharing ideas about the potentials of teaching and learning with ece's and young children. ECE geeks unite!

8 thoughts on “Clay is Stronger Than Playdough

  1. I bet. And I agree with him. Clay is so much sturdier and it “falls over.” Also, it just shows how young children do have long attention spans when they’re doing interesting things. Thanks for this.

  2. I heard a comment once froma reggio educator to a visiting scholar to reggio emilia. The scholar asked how long it took the 4 year old child to make a particular clay scullpture. The reggio educator replied simply, “4 years”. This says so much.

  3. I’ve never seen any child create anything even close to this using playdough…usually a whole lot of snowpeople and snakes. Not that there’s anything ‘wrong’ with snowpeople and snakes but clay seems to invite and provoke so much more…as this not yet three year old artist’s work shows us all.

  4. I love clay, and I think clay should be out every day. It is a medium that takes time to learn, and if it isn’t soften, many little hands have difficulties forming it. In 1970 I worked in child care in Denmark, and there was no such ting as play dough.Only clay, and it was available to be used freely. Not like “Oh. We havn’t had the clay out for awhile, so let play with clay today”. Kids formed and poked and we used little paddles to shape the clay. And water to make it softer.
    I do like playdough and I have had many great imaginations and conversations over play dough, but it does tip over so if we want to create an image, it has to be flat. But that Ok . We can take pictures and tell a story. Just like “the busy little mouse” story.

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