Child Development Through Play
Young children get lots of manipulative practice when they
squeeze, roll, pinch, and pound clay. They gain more control over hand and
arm movements and improve their coordination. Children often incorporate
music into their play as they rhythmically repeat their
When a group of children tries to connect all of their clay
coils together to form "the longest alligator in the whole wide world," they're
learning to cooperate with one another. Even when children play
independently, they often like to share their ideas and experiences with you or
other children in the group. Creating with clay also inspires dramatic
play. Social conversations occur as two "customers" sip tea from clay cups
and pretend to munch on plastic cookies.
Because of the very responsive nature of clay, it's a natural
outlet for children to express their emotions. Children who are feeling
angry can relieve their tensions by pounding the substance, pulling it apart,
and slamming it back together. If preschoolers feel frustrated, they can
squeeze the clay together and use their hands to control what they want it to
do. Manipulating clay is a wonderful way for nonverbal children to release
their emotions. Older children may deal with their feelings by creating
clay objects and using them to act out scenarios and talk about problem
situations. Children gain self-esteem as they express themselves through
Children sharpen their problem-solving skills as they figure out
how to divide their dough in order to make a hamburger and a hot dog.
Older children learn to distinguish size, shape, and space, as well as to
classify representational items as they create more specific objects.
Messy play also stimulates language development. Children listen to the
sounds they make as their fingers squish the clay, read recipe charts for making
play dough, talk about the "green pickles" they just rolled out, and write
letters by placing plastic lines together.