Playing with playdough is an everyday occurrence at many ECE services, but the humble activity is subject to frequent debate with suggestions that playdough and other food based play ideas are culturally insensitive.
The debate is not new - it is revived every few years and has been around for at least the past 30 years.
One debate was sparked by an idea posted on Facebook about painting with the end of a celery stick. Some questioned whether this was a suitable activity and the debate soon spread to many similar things such as using potatoes to print and making necklaces out of pasta.
Many ECE services (and parents at home) use recipes for playdough that require ingredients such as flour and salt, which theoretically is edible even though anyone who has tried it will probably testify that you would not choose to eat it.
Some ECE services restrict their use of food for playing because it is "bad tikanga" and considered culturally insensitive to Maori.
Another reason for not using food in play is that many families cannot afford decent meals.
A difficulty for ECE services on tight budgets though is that the cost of flour to make playdough, for example, may work out to be a lot cheaper than buying commercially produced playdough, plasticine, or clay.
While clay and other natural replacements are a good idea, these are still not the same as the playdough that many adults have gown up with.
Some services chose to use flour that is past its used-by-date and/ or keep flour and foods that are used for play separate.
A concern that is less often discussed is hygiene, and what germs may be transmitted via playdough that is touched and/or nibbled on.
Should children be asked to wash and dry their hands before playing with playdough? Should it be re-used for different groups of children and made fresh perhaps only once a week or every day?
The Education Ministry has no explicit regulations around using food as a tool for play so it is up to individual services to decide if and when they use food as part of play and learning through play.
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