Clay or Playdough for Infants?

Recently, Moon used clay for the first time! As excited as I was for her to use clay, I was admittedly just as excited for Greysen to have a regular play partner aside from me. Moon has just started to show interested in how her sister plays, so I thought, let’s pull the clay out and see what happens.

 Moon, 6 months,  and Greysen, 21 Months, at Play


Clay versus Play dough for Infants


Both clay and play dough have their pros and cons, but for young infants I prefer clay to play dough for several reasons.


1. Clay is a wonderfully firm art medium. Sturdy yet pliable, infants can make impressions on it, yet it will mostly hold its shape. In these exploratory years, clay and play dough are not yet a means to express ideas. They are for patting, pulling, and rolling.


2.  Unlike play dough, clay doesn’t break off in chunks with a tug, and for infants who still put everything in their mouths, this is an important consideration. It takes a scratch or good pinch to pull off a small piece of clay from a mound. In my classroom experiences, play dough is more likely to be eaten.


Note that I say eaten and not tasted. I think all things tangible are equally as likely to be tasted. Moon tasted her fair share of clay this day, but like homemade play doughs, clay is made of natural material and since it wasn’t gobs of clay I wasn’t too concerned.


3. Clay is a high-quality art material, used by artisans who take their work seriously and whose work is valued. Doesn’t that describe an infant at play perfectly?


The following point is not in comparison to play dough, but a reason in and of itself why I like it so much.


4. Most importantly, to me clay is natural medium, earthy in its appearance, smell, and feel. Anytime I can give the girls a chance to connect to the outside world, I’ll do it.


5.  Clay comes in a few colors, but terra cotta is my favorite. Very much like the neutral wooden non-detailed people, red clay beckons for a child to impose their ideas on it.


6. It lasts and lasts when properly cared for. We have had this block of clay for just about a year now and its still in great shape. Its a bit of an investment at first at about $20 for 25-lbs., but over the last year I think the HOURS of play that we have gotten from it has been well worth the price.


In some ways, clay and play dough are like acrylic paint and washable paint – each valuable and purposeful, but at times better (or worse) for a particular project. Does anyone else have a preference when it comes to using clay or play dough?

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