Llamas and the Play Dough Challenge
A few years ago, while working on an excavation just outside of Cusco city with a team consisting of archaeologists and representatives of a local Quechua speaking community, I gained several key insights about the nature of creativity. These experiences inspired activities I now teach children in Australia. One is the play dough challenge, inspired by an afternoon of spontaneous creative play in an archaeological trench, towards the end of our excavation season.
On this particular afternoon, a lad from the local community, who worked a nearby trench, leant down and took a small amount of earth clay into his rough and strong hands and rolled it into a ball. Once the ball was a nice round shape, he began to gently tear, mould and smooth the edges with his fingers. I watched in wonder, silently watching him play. A few minutes later, from the cup of his hands, emerged a llamita, a miniature llama figurine. Quietly, he walked over the edge of my trench and placed the llamita gently on the well-built Inka stone terrace wall that enclosed the excavation area. Curious, I asked him what had inspired him to create his little clay friend. He looked at me oddly and replied, ‘no sé.’ (‘I don’t know’). The llamita remained on the wall for the rest of the excavation.
In a range of learning environments, I have observed children follow a similar process. Although enthralled during the act of creating, I have watched time and time again, children simply get up from the craft table and abandon their masterpiece after finishing it, seemingly unattached to it.
These experiences in Australia and Peru afforded me two insights about creativity: being present during the act of creating is often more important than the outcome; and, by paying full attention to the moment while creating, your actions become reverent. It is reverence that animates an object making it beautiful to the beholder.
From these experiences and insights, the play-dough challenge came to life. This is a simple and fun game, especially when played as a group. The game is also inclusive: both young and older children will give it a go and enjoy it.
To play the challenge, you will need the following: play dough; paddle pop sticks to use as polishers; and, a timer.
The aim of the activity is to get each child to play with the dough for 1 to 3 minutes. I usually start with just one minute and then make the sessions progressively longer.
The challenge is guided by two main rules: don’t over think, just create; and, each participant has only their hands and one paddle pop stick to create with.
The game instructions are as follows:
- Start by first giving each child a small amount of play dough and a paddle pop stick;
- Then ask them to roll their dough into a ball. Once they have done this, remind them of the guidelines;
- Set your timer and when ready, instruct the children to start;
- At the end of the designated time, ask them to stop and lift their hands away from their masterpiece;
- To end this activity, I suggest you ask each participant to talk about his or her creation; and,
- Once the discussion is over (and photos of creations are taken), ask the participants to roll the dough back into a ball.
I am always amazed at what the children make during this game. Meanwhile, observing them during the game gives invaluable clues about the way a child thinks, learns and creates and works in a group scenario. I have noted, for example, it is common for a small group of children, usually sitting opposite or next to one another, to create similar pieces. An older child, who creates something that appeals to them, usually inspires this and becomes their mentor. Meanwhile, other children will gravitate towards making letters or numbers, an indicator that they are probably more left-brained, while others create characters, re-create stories or scenes from books and films or other things they like or enjoy.
So, I have taken the challenge. You can watch me creating my own llamita on our social media channels. I now dare you to take it.
What can you, your family or your class create in one minute? We would love to hear about your creations, experiences and ideas.
Muchas gracias a la Comunidad de Salkantay para su amistad y por inspirarme.