Penguin’s been enjoying the playdough mats I made for him recently (here), so the other day I decided it was time to make another one. I’d also been thinking of making some kind of simple phenology wheel, so I made this mat showing a tree, as a base for exploring the four seasons.
Penguin generally needs to be shown very clearly what the goal of any activity is, so I made an example of each season and took pictures of them, so that he could get a good idea of what to do. I also wrote the months on each panel, with erasable pen, for him to copy.
Yesterday, I presented this activity to Penguin (he’d also been keeping an eye while I was making it, so he already had a fair idea of what it was about). We made a winter scene, and he looked at the picture of my example and pretty much copied that. When we do learning activities we sit down together to do them, partly because there’s usually a bit of support and prompting needed throughout, to stay on task and keep going. Doing things together also provides opportunities to interact and communicate, which is not only good fun but also an important learning aspect, with Penguin being autistic and minimally verbal.
So, this time the scene was made almost exactly as on the example I’d provided, but next time I’ll suggest variations, like different colours for the snowman’s hat and scarf, a different number of snowballs, maybe adding a sun, a cloud, or a little bird, perhaps with a bird feeder too? Or place a deer by the tree instead of a snowman? Penguin would most likely be happy to make it the very same way each time, so I’ll need to initiate the variations.
When we do activities, of pretty much any kind, Penguin often needs a bit of help getting started. To use yesterday as an example, I got the white playdough out, gave some to Penguin, and started putting a little bit of it on the playdough mat, encouraging him to do the same. I try to find a balance, where he does as much as possible, with me allowing him to be capable and not helping any more than what’s needed, but at the same time stay involved, so it doesn’t feel like I’m there just to observe and judge.
To show Penguin how to make the snowman, I made a separate one, so he could watch and copy step by step. It can be tricky for him to plan ahead and know which bit to do first, and if you start with, say for example, the nose, it’s much trickier than if you’d made the body and head first. Again, it’s a balance, helping but not too much, allowing mistakes etc. But I want to avoid it becoming frustrating. It needs to stay fun, or the motivation disappears.
Making the winter scene yesterday was enjoyable and went well, so I’d say it’s a hit! And apart from learning about the four seasons, working with these playdough mats provides great fine motor skills practice, and can also incorporate other learning aspects such as numeracy (how many snowballs, flowers, leafs, birds, sunrays and so on, could also include addition, subtraction, etc.) and litteracy. In regards to the latter, I’d planned to ask Penguin to copy the months in writing, but forgot to do that yesterday BEFORE making the actual playdough scene. And once it’s there, it’s hard to write above as the playdough is in the way. So instead I got the names of the months on labels (from our DIY calendar) and let Penguin place them in the right order. If you want to include more reading practice, you could write down things that you see in the picture in labels, and have your child place them by the things they name. Or ask your child to write down what they see in the scene, if they’re able to do that (we’re not there yet). Whatever you do, try to keep it enjoyable 🙂👍
If you’d like to do this activity with your kid(s), you can download our playdough mat as pdf below, to print out and laminate (or put in a plastic sleeve). There’s also a pdf with my four example pictures.
Have fun! x
PS. You can also find printables of our previous playdough mats here.