Forest Putty Play

Play dough undoubtedly makes the short list of wonder toys. Given the right context and the relaxation of rules, though, it can become even more wonderful. As parents, we'd never imagine we're guilty of "restricting" our child's play dough use. Most of us, however, manage where, how long and even how it’s played with. Have you found yourself encouraging your kid to "keep the colors separate?" 

Take the dough outdoors, rebrand it “forest putty,” and invite kids to play freely with it. Suddenly, play dough can take on new textures, colors and scents. It becomes a tool for exploring, sculpting, attaching, building, collecting and pretending. Various nature treasures stick to it and get enveloped in it. And, with a bit of imagination, it can morph into virtually anything! 

The Guide

Step 1: Make "forest putty": 

If you haven’t done it, it’s really not that hard if you follow an easy recipe like ours. Plus, you want to feel okay about losing a crumble or two outdoors (most commercial brands have way too many “ingredients” for that). Add some herbs and spices to your mix to pump up the sensory stimulation.

Step 2: Launch the activity: 

Roll the dough into balls and offer one to each kid (set aside a ball for yourself, too!). To add a sense o mystery, you can also hide the balls of dough around your outdoor space and invite kids to discover them. Let kids know that this is "forest putty" - dough they can play with outside! Wonder together: how could we use our hands and our imaginations to change this dough into something else?

Step 3: Play and create! 

Let kids play with putty in any and all ways they choose. Grab some putty and play alongside. Wow at innovative techniques. Need some ideas to get started? Here are some of our favorite ways to play with forest putty:
  • Press a nature treasure into it to see what designs are left behind. Or, make or nature fossils.
  • Mold a piece of putty into a shape.
  • Flatten a piece of putty. Then use a stick to draw on it.
  • Roll putty into a ball and stick nature treasures into it. 
  • Make forest putty campfire treats to roast over a pretend campfire.
  • Learn about the amazing bodies of insects, then invite kids to turn forest putty into real or imagined tiny friends.
  • Gather some nature treasures with interesting shapes and designs. How can you use forest putty to connect the pieces together?

Why is this activity great for kids?

This activity brings divergent thinking and the 3 B's of creativity together, giving kids the chance to bend putty into different shapes, break apart treasures and blend the two together to create something new. Whenever kids do such tactile work, they develop their senses. Kids also develop fine motor control in their hands as they connect objects and squeeze, mold or shape the dough. And, even though tasks like mashing and molding the dough, blending pebbles and dirt into it, or sticking sticks into it appear very simple, they are great examples of universal behavior patterns that experts know develop the human body and brain.

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