Dough

A modelling substance which can be made from readily available materials may be easier to provide than clay. Dough made from flour, salt and water is different from clay (indeed batches of dough made to different recipes with varying types of flour can differ from each other) but allows for similar activities.

There is no right or wrong consistency. Different textures lead to different play and discoveries. For young children a non-sticky, easily manageable mass is obvious commonsense. Basically, plain flour gives a short-pastry-like dough, self-raising flour gives a ‘ puffy’ substance and strong flour (used for bread-making and having a high gluten content) gives a stretchy elastic- ioo like material. Recipes vary but are not crucial. Salt may be added as this helps draw moisture from the air and keeps the dough malleable. On a dry hot day try using four ounces to a pound of flour. If this amount of salt was used on a damp, muggy day the dough would become almost fluid. For average weather use two ounces of salt to one pound of flour. If you have run out of salt then leave it out altogether. Some recipes use a small amount of salad oil which helps keep the dough pliable, but it is not strictly necessary.

To introduce some variety it is possible to colour the dough. A strongly coloured dough, made by adding powder paint or ready-mixed colour either during the mixing or after, is a most exciting material and children respond to it with great enthus-iasm. Some colours of paint are to be avoided, particularly purple and some of the bluish-reds, but any staining of hands will be no worse than that resulting from finger painting. If two colours are made up the inevitable mixing of the two leads to a lot of interest and conversation.

The other type of dough to play with is ‘pastry’ and for this, of course, the dough should be left uncoloured. As far as the children are concerned this is the stuff mummy uses to cook with. They will need tools such as rolling pins, perhaps small boards (large lino tiles are useful), flour dredgers (a canister with just a few holes made in the lid), and suitable pastry cutters, patty tins and baking tins. It is important that all these tools and implements are kept in good condition. To give children rusty cutters and rather scruffy patty tins is neither good sense nor good training. Daily washing and thorough drying with the help of adults can become a natural extension of pastry play. After all, this is the procedure children see their mothers carrying out.

At home pastry play is often the result of what the mother is doing. In the nursery group it is usually available every day. Some groups feel it naturally fits into the home corner, other groups have it as a separate activity. It depends very much on the amount of space within the home corner but in my experience children who rarely use the home corner enjoy playing with pastry if it is separate. Since the natural corollary to making cakes is to bake them perhaps it would be possible to have an extra improvised oven next to the pastry table in addition to the one in the home corner. Aprons for this activity help to protect children’s clothes but, as for water play, they also help to limit the number who can play. Usually four children will play happily at a time. With more than this number there seems to be less concentration and conversation developed.

The amount of dough provided both at home and in nursery groups is often on the mean side. A tiny little piece is very limi-ting. A great big lump as big as a medium-sized cabbage gives much more scope and more fun. Whether for plain or coloured dough a three-pound bag of flour would provide handsomely for four children. This is not so extravagant as it sounds because with reasonable care (that is not wiping it round the sand tray, adding soil or sticking nails in it) it can be put away at the end of each session in a tightly-fastened plastic bag and used three or four times. If salt is used this helps to keep it sweet. Keeping it overnight in a refrigerator seems to improve the texture if anything but most nursery groups are not able to do this.

One of the extensions and progressions in dough play is to let children mix their own under supervision. Since this is often the first step in cooking activities it will be included under cooking .