Exploring Unconventional Materials
Last month a visitor to the Museum asked if they could do some fingerpainting in the Studio. Since we love exploring the textures and possibilities of everyday objects, I decided to use one of our recent toddler and preschool programs to experiment with a pleasantly tactile, yet unconventional material: shaving cream.
Inspired by the winter weather, we started by reading Ezra Jack Keats’ classic The Snowy Day. As we read aloud, the kids enjoyed using their bodies to imitate Peter’s playful movements – walking with their toes pointed out then in, dragging their feet, waving their arms to make snow angels, patting their hands to sculpt snowballs. Several noted the marks Peter left in the negative space of the snow.
Ezra Jack Keats, illustration from The Snowy Day, Penguin Random House.
After marching to the Art Studio with our toes in and our toes out, we continued our play by experimenting with shaving cream on various surfaces. It’s fun and easy to use paint to mix colors into the shaving cream, but we opted to keep things simple (and snowy) by leaving it white.
We distributed shaving cream in plastic bowls, and provided stubby brushes and smocks for those who might not want to get too messy.
To help minimize the mess, we set out drop cloths in front of our big windows.
We set up another play station at a low table. To add an element of surprise, we decided to first cover the table with strips of brightly colored tape.
Just before the kids entered the Studio, we covered the table in shaving cream.
Some dove right in, enjoying the texture of the shaving cream and discovering different colors as they dragged their palms across the table.
Others used their fingertips to carefully make lines and draw figures.
Several kids lifted the excess shaving cream into the air and noted the shapes they discovered. “It’s a cloud!”
Meanwhile, at the windows, some kids used brushes to spread the shaving cream in large, swooping arcs.
The constant marking and erasing of the shaving cream allowed for rapidly shifting perspectives. Some paused to look out at the orchard appearing and disappearing on the other side of the window.
Others used their hands to directly apply the shaving cream to the window. They pressed, lifted, and pressed again, observing the shifting, organic shapes their handprints left on the glass.
It was exhilarating to witness the kids’ prolonged and deep engagement with such a simple, malleable material!
Cleaning up the space did require spraying and wiping the windows, but we found it to be well-worth the sensory exploration. As a cleaning product itself, the shaving cream also helped clean off some of the old paint that had dried on our drop-cloths! For a smaller, potentially less messy endeavor, you can also make “snow paint” (glue and shaving cream) and apply it to other surfaces like balloons or sheets of paper.
We hope you can join us for Open Book, Open Play programs at The Carle in the future. If you can’t make it, we hope this post serves as inspiration to experiment with other safe, unconventional materials at your home or school.