Modeling clay can open up a world of sensory exploration for your child.

Early Childhood Modeling Clay Activities

by Amy Pearson

You might turn to modeling clay to entertain your restless child on a rainy day or incorporate fun learning activities into his day. Your child will enjoy using his hands and eyes to learn about size, proportion and shapes. Your child likely does not have predetermined ideas for how to use clay, so it is a versatile learning tool. Sensory materials such as modeling clay allow your child to gain a better understanding of his world, says Suzanne Gainsley, early childhood specialist with HighScope Educational Research Foundation.

Counting and Shapes

Encourage your child to form simple shapes out of modeling clay. As her small and large motor skills improve, she might create more difficult shapes. Rolling pins and cookie cutters are also fun toys to include in your activities. Your children might enjoy rolling the modeling clay out flat, then using cookie cutters to press shapes into it. If you have more than one color of clay, work on color recognition and learn about patterns by alternating colors, shapes or both. Practice counting the number of shapes in a pattern. You could work on concepts such as “less than” and “more than” by comparing one pile of clay to another, as ValleyPBS recommends.

Exploratory Experiences

Explore basic science concepts by working with your child to create modeling clay from scratch. He will learn about fractions and measurement as he helps add ingredients to a bowl. Encourage your child to help stir ingredients and watch them transform into a moldable substance. You might add a few drops of red and yellow food coloring to the clay and then ask him to guess what color it will become. If you have a few different colors of modeling clay, try pressing them together. You might place clay in a bowl of water to test buoyancy or roll it in a ball and try to bounce it off a tile floor, as EarlychildhoodNEWS suggests.

Language Development

Your child could press animals, flowers, bugs or any shapes and letters into modeling clay using rubber stamps. Discuss the names of each impression and use descriptive words to describe the clay, such as thick, smooth or cool. Modeling clay can help your child make connections and learn words to compare her creations with things in her environment, advises the National Association for the Education of Young Children reports. For example, your child might shape modeling clay into the shape of an orange, banana or apple.


Free play with clay can help your child improve and strengthen the muscles needed to learn to write in a fun and pressure-free environment, according to a 2012 publication by Fairfax County School. Your child can use his imagination to create anything he likes. Add extra tools, such as utensils or small cars to the dough and allow him to free play. Children learn best through play and start to develop self-awareness by exploring sensory materials such as clay, according to HighScope. You child will enjoy using his imagination to shape, grab, roll, mold and press modeling clay.

About the Author

Amy Pearson earned dual bachelor's degrees in management and horticulture. She is a licensed elementary teacher for kindergarten through sixth grades. Pearson specializes in flower and vegetable gardening, landscape design, education, early childhood and child development.

Photo Credits

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