Wednesday, October 10, 2018

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Preschool STEM With Sculpey Clay

Preschool STEM is a subject I am passionate about...and it is much more simple than many people think! Do you want an easy way to schedule daily STEM activities? Have you ever used Sculpey Clay? Today, I'm sharing a way to give your preschoolers unique STEM experiences they will LOVE!

To start with, let's quickly review what STEM is! STEM activities integrate learning in science, technology, engineering, and math while letting your children investigate, create, or engineer something. STEM activities are memorable and powerful because they involve more than one subject and, often, more than one sense (auditory, sight, sound, touch, taste, vestibular). They also put your kiddos in charge of their own learning: your preschoolers do the investigation, creation, or engineering!

It is amazing for preschoolers and older kids (click here for an awesome clay project for older kids)!

Preschoolers LOVE STEM projects...and sometimes mine don't even realize that that's what they're doing! If you have building toys, and you invite or challenge your kids to design something, they are doing a STEM activity! The problem solving, trial and error processes, and satisfaction from completing their project will carry over into other aspects of their lives. This may be the hardest part for some parents and teachers: do not solve their problems for them! Kids are smart, and the satisfaction they get from solving their own problems is impossible to duplicate any other way!

I recently discovered that clay is an incredible tool that preschoolers love! Clay for children is often overlooked, but it can be used for STEM projects at home AND in daycare or preschool settings! 

When I first organized our clay classes, I did not expect our preschoolers to get as much out of it as our elementary and middle school kids. After all, they are younger. Boy, was I wrong!

Before our classes started, my preschoolers helped me "test" a few projects, and I very  quickly learned that clay is something preschoolers can appreciate and use in ways that no other tool or material will quite replicate.

Let me tell you some of the benefits that I discovered from using Sculpey Clay with our Preschoolers!

Benefits for Preschoolers from Using Sculpey Clay:

1- Sculpey clay strengthens fine motor skills in preschoolers' (and older kids!) fingers! We are always looking for ways to strengthen fine motor skills because strong fingers enjoy writing more, and we want our kids ready to write in kindergarten and first grade.

2- Rolling and working Sculpey clay doubles as an early writing exercise! It helps develop grip and coordination that work with the fine motor skills mentioned in #1 to make writing easier.

3- Working Sculpey clay is a very satisfying sensory experience for children. I have three "sensory-seekers" and one "sensory-avoider," and they all loved the feeling of folding, squishing, and manipulating the clay with both their fingers and other tools.

4- Sculpey clay creates an outlet for imagination! My preschoolers made fairies, fairy houses, boats, butterflies, and butterfly houses, and more. After they were cured, the kids took their creations and played games with them that lasted for hours. Literally. I saw fairies solving problems, going for boat rides, flying together, and so. much. more! I could write a whole article just on this!

5- Working with Sculpey clay as a group created a safe place for the kids to interact with each other while focusing on their own project. They shared colors, passed tools back and forth, took turns with cookie cutters, and talked about what they were making. We started doing this at least once a week because the social skill exercises were so healthy!

6- Creating with Sculpey clay became a self-directed STEM activity! The first time we used it, I gave the kids some instructions because I thought they would need hovering attention to have a positive experience. I was wrong! They needed very little instruction, and they gave themselves their own STEM challenges! They are solving problems and engineering! They decided what they wanted to make, how they wanted it to look, and set about working on it! I have seen preschoolers now mix colors deliberately, build houses using slabs, and make small, detailed sculptures like fairies that required far more attention to detail than I thought they were capable of! Seriously. Mind blown!

Now that you all want to share Sculpey clay with your preschoolers, let me give you a few tips to using it for your own STEM learning!

Tips to Using Sculpey Clay for Preschool STEM:

1- Use Sculpey Premo Clay! I know I'm totally biased, but this is a fact: not all clays are created equal! I love, love, love Sculpey Premo because it is oven-bake, does not dry out on the counter, and is very high quality. If your kids make something paper thin, it will still cook up, and not fall apart. (It will be bendy, though, so I encourage my kids to make it a little thicker!) If they make something an inch thick, it will still cook up and look amazing! You can't "over-cook" it if you're working at the right temperature, so you don't have to worry about it burning. AND (bonus!!) Sculpey is so awesome that they created a special discount just for my readers! If you happen to be reading this in October or November, you can use the code POWOL20 to get 20% off an online order!! Just click here!

2- Teach your kids to condition the clay. You need to condition clay so that it is nice and flexible. For my preschoolers, I showed them how to roll it out with a rolling pin until it is paper thin, fold it up, and then roll it out again. The other way to condition that most of my young kids liked, is to pinch of a little piece, squish it flat with your fingers, roll it back into a ball, and then squish it flat again. It's important for them to be able to condition their own clay; otherwise, you'll need to condition it for all your kids every time they want to make anything...and no teacher or parent has time for that! ;)  

3- Let them get to work! Don't hover, and don't do everything for them. They will make things happen!

4- A little clay goes a long way! 2 ounces is enough clay for 4 children to make a fairy, a necklace medallion/pendant, a snake or other animal, a boat, or about a million other things! If you're making a big project you'll need more, but it takes longer to condition larger amounts of clay. I would put out 1/2 ounce out for each kid, but not limit the kids to one color...see #5!

5- Put out 1/2 ounce per kid. They come in 2 ounce packages. Get 2-3 colors, open each package, and cut the package into 16 squares. Tell the kids they can have 4 squares in whatever colors they want. I also like to put out rolling pins and 1-2 cookie cutters.

6- Put out a cookie sheet for kids to put completed projects on. Let them know that when they are done, you will cook them, and they will harden so the won't squish or break.

7- Cook the projects at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45-60 minutes if they are about 1/4 inch thick. For every additional 1/4 inch, add an extra 40 minutes in the oven. This is a little bit longer than the packaging recommends, but it worked better for us. NOTE: While it is hot, it is still a little malleable. It needs to cool completely to finish curing.

8- If you ever need to re-attach a piece of clay (we might have had one fairy head pop off during some vigorous fairy play...) use Sculpey's Bake & Bond. It is amazing stuff! It is like it turns into cement when it cooks!

That's it! So how do you schedule it? We have been using it in two ways:

1- Rotations/Centers: This was one of my favorite teaching methods when I was a public school teacher, and now I use it as I homeschool my own kids. Set up 3-4 high-interest "stations" that your kids can work at independently. The final station is with you! Set a timer for 15-20 minutes, assign a child to each station, and get to work! When the timer rings, rotate! I love this because it gives me 1-on-1 time with each child, and they get time to work and create on their own...and a Sculpey Clay station has become our new favorite rotation!

2- Quiet Time: Our house goes into Quiet Time for an hour and a half every afternoon that we are home while the baby naps. Clay is one of the kids new favorite quiet activities...especially on days when we don't do rotations!

How could clay solve some of your scheduling challenges? Do you want a daily dose of STEM? Give it a shot! (Use the 20% off coupon!)  I'd love to answer any questions you have! 

Have you used Sculpey Premo before? Do you want to try it? I'd love to hear your experiences!!

Disclosure: Sculpey provided Premo clay for us to experiment with in preparation for this post. As always, I only share my opinions and I ONLY recommend products I absolutely LOVE!

Happy Educating,

Have you seen HEEP? It is a preschool homeschool curriculum! Learn more here!

I may share at any of these parties!

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