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This current 6-part series of early years music articles features a new activity each month from a number of arts activities trialled for 1 and 2-year-old children, along with musical suggestions and recordings on YouTube. This month we discover the wonders of using magic dough in early years education, fostering creativity and encouraging STEM exploration. 

Creativity comes naturally to children, and research has shown that younger children have more creative ideas than older children. How or why creative ideas reduce as children progress through school has been argued by many different people, with ideas ranging from fears of being wrong to fears of not conforming, to a narrow national curriculum geared to academic success.

Thinking of people like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and their laser focus on technology, Florence Nightingale and her recognition of the need for hygiene and a sterile nursing environment, and even the inventor of Pokémon, and his motivation for bringing insects and nature to city children, creativity seems to come from personal interests and passions. Yet despite big changes coming from people with very focussed and specialist interests, current thinking is that a wider range of experiences creates more opportunities.

Delivering STEM and “the arts” in a children’s curriculum can include so many options: architecture, circus, dance, handcrafts, media art, music, theatre, visual arts, word arts, 2d/3d arts/visual media, painting, drawing, building, crafting, modelling, creating statues, installations, animations, advertisements, taking pictures and videos. Working out which “arts” to successfully deliver to 1- to 2-year-old children can be more challenging. Based on a Finnish study, Lehikoinen (2023) successfully experimented with six arts:

  • Dance-painting – paint feet, move to song (July 2023)
  • Snow-painting
  • Magic dough 08 – create characters in playdough (August 2023)
  • Digital drawing
  • Musical drawing
  • Balloon painting

This month, we are focusing on magic dough or play-dough.

Playdough Recipe:
8 tablespoons of flour
2 tablespoons of table salt
4 tablespoons of water
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
Flavouring/food colouring

Knead together until smooth and allow to rest in the fridge before use.

This easy-to-make playdough recipe can be used as part of the activity for children to make themselves, mixing the ingredients and kneading their own playdough. Dividing the playdough, children can use their creativity to create characters or any other items taken from songs that can be played or sung whilst making the playdough. Then bake and paint for art extension activities!

One man went to mow

One man went to mow
Went to mow a meadow,
One man and his dog - woof!
Went to mow a meadow.

Two men went to mow
Went to mow a meadow,
Two men, one man and his dog - woof!
Went to mow a meadow.

Three men went to mow
Went to mow a meadow,
Three men, two men, one man
And his dog - woof!
Went to mow a meadow.
Four men went to mow
Went to mow a meadow,
Four men, three men, two men
One man and his dog - woof!
Went to mow a meadow.

Five men went to mow
Went to mow a meadow,
Five men, four men, three men, two men
One man and his dog - woof!
Went to mow a meadow.

This lovely rhyme creates an opportunity for children to create multiple characters or work in groups, creating the different men – and of course, their dog – or even a lawnmower!

Incy wincy spider

Incy wincy spider
Went up the waterspout
Down came the rain and
Washed the spider out
Out came the sunshine and
Dried up all the rain
So incy wincy spider
Went up the spout again

This lovely old favourite creates opportunities for children to make spiders, webs, spouts, houses – and who knows what else they may come up with!

Wind the bobbin up

Wind the bobbin up
Wind the bobbin up
Pull, pull, clap-clap-clap
Wind it back again
Wind it back again
Pull, pull, clap-clap-clap
Point to the ceiling, point to the floor
Point to the window and
Point to the door
Clap your hands together
One-two-three
Put your hands
Upon your knees

Unless their parents sew, it is unlikely that many children will know what a bobbin is – which can allow their imagination to run absolutely wild! Use it as an opportunity for children to imagine what a bobbin may be, something that can be wound – or use it as a lesson in the history of sewing as an industry!

Ten green bottles

Ten green bottles hanging on a wall
Ten green bottles hanging on a wall
And if one green bottle
Should accidentally fall
There’ll be nine green bottles
Hanging on a wall

Nine green bottles hanging on a wall …

Eight green bottles hanging on a wall …

Seven green bottles hanging on a wall …

Six green bottles hanging on a wall …

Five green bottles hanging on a wall …

Four green bottles hanging on a wall …

Three green bottles hanging on a wall …

Two green bottles hanging on a wall …

One green bottle hanging on a wall …

No green bottles hanging on a wall
No green bottles hanging on a wall
And if no green bottles
Should accidentally fall
We can play in the garden
Hanging on a wall

This is another song where children can create many similar items or work in groups, creating 10 different kinds of bottles!

And finally … doe a deer

Despite this article referring to the song “Doe, a deer”, it is not usually a song recommended for new or young singers to learn because of its musical theory complexity. Being aware of songs that may be more complex or have too great a range for children allows children to sing successfully. However, it is a great LISTENING piece for children, helping to broaden their scope of musical experience by listening to different and more complex forms of music – not to mention giving children a wider scope of items that they can create from playdough!

View the other articles in this series below!

Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

About the author:

Frances Turnbull, a musician, researcher, and accomplished author, boasts a skill set that encompasses both music education techniques and a Master's degree in Education from the University of Cambridge. Frances' literary contributions shine a spotlight of music, dance, and movement within early years education.

About the author:

Frances Turnbull, a musician, researcher, and accomplished author, boasts a skill set that encompasses both music education techniques and a Master's degree in Education from the University of Cambridge. Frances' literary contributions shine a spotlight of music, dance, and movement within early years education.

About the author:

Frances Turnbull, a musician, researcher, and accomplished author, boasts a skill set that encompasses both music education techniques and a Master's degree in Education from the University of Cambridge. Frances' literary contributions shine a spotlight of music, dance, and movement within early years education.

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