Plasticine And Self-Reg: What Do You Do When Brands Change?

Just about every educator I know spends their own money on something. I’m no exception to that rule. One of the things that I buy the most is plasticine. Most Kindergarten educators are big play dough users. My teaching partner, Paula, and I have tried to use play dough in the classroom, but with little success. As strange as it sounds, play dough almost seems to be a little too soft for our kids. Instead of it being a calming option for children, it actually dysregulates most of our students. But plasticine is different. It’s not quite as soft, it requires a little more manipulation, and it lends itself to such wonderful oral language and storytelling opportunities, while also being the perfect sensory play that many of our kids use to self-regulate. We usually go through about one package of plasticine a day. I found the perfect plasticine at Dollarama a few years ago. You’d think that all plasticine would be created equal, but it’s not. We want our kids to be independent, so this plasticine is perfect.

  • They can easily go and get their own package of it.
  • They know how to quickly and easily break each stick into smaller pieces: around four or five little pieces that they can share with their friends.
  • It’s pliable enough that it allows for the formation of beautiful creations, but not too pliable, that it creates the same problems as play dough.

I seriously cannot say enough wonderful things about this plasticine … which is why I started to feel incredibly dysregulated this morning when I realized that my favourite Dollarama store no longer sells this brand. Oh no! What am I going to do now?

Here I was this morning thinking that I could quickly run into the Dollar Store, buy my plasticine, and leave, but instead, I spent close to 30 minutes just staring at the shelves. 

  • There is a new plasticine available that is in smaller bundles, but it feels really soft. Will it be too soft? Will this result in the same problems that we have with play dough?
  • There are the big blocks of plasticine available. They’re similarly malleable to the type that we prefer, but students will not be able to be as independent with taking them from the drawer and dividing up the pieces. Can I cut the bigger blocks into smaller sections to still allow for this independence? How much will I need to buy to equate to the other packages?

I went back and forth with the options, and eventually decided on buying a big block of each colour, plus one package of the new plasticine to try out. I didn’t leave feeling good about my decision though. We know that there are a core group of our children that rely on this plasticine play for self-regulating, and would this small change in material significantly change how students respond to it?

As I drove home, I decided to stop by another Dollarama closer to my house, and I was thrilled to find some packages of the old, familiar plasticine that we love. I bought all of them! 

While I can at least start this week feeling better about our plasticine options, what will the next week bring? And the week after that? There are so many things that stuck with me after I took The MEHRIT Centre’s Foundations 1 Course, but the positive and negative impact of sensory items on the classroom environment, is one of many things that continue to stick with me. Now I can’t purchase anything without wondering, how will the children respond?

  • In the past few years, I’ve spent countless hours searching for no-scent or low-scent shaving cream, and then sometimes, even the feel of the shaving cream is too dysregulating for some children. Is it the social nature of this play that also results in dysregulation for some kids?

  • Then there are the times that I’ve purchased flowers or plants for some observational drawings. How will students respond to the smell? Is it too powerful? Will it overwhelm the whole room and not just impact on one little section of the room?
  • This year, we also used vinegar in our sensory bin, as a way for students to help clean the acrylic paint off the floor. We needed to couple this vinegar with a little additional water and some soap to help reduce the scent. In a small room, the smell seems to travel even more. 

  • Some scents seem to work better than others, as we noticed with the rice in our sensory bin. While the cinnamon and peppermint scents were somewhat strong, they were also calming. Students were really attracted to this sensory bin when they wanted a quiet space to self-regulate. Maybe the pouring helped. Maybe the quiet conversations also made a difference. And maybe, a different group of students would have responded differently. When it comes to scents though, I think we now spend hours smelling, thinking, and making changes to sensory experiences before children ever partake in them. 

Today’s plasticine experience reminded me of how something seemingly so small can have such a big impact on student learning and the classroom environment. Thinking back to my experiences of the past, before I even heard about Stuart Shanker, Susan Hopkins, and The MEHRIT Centre 

  • I would have purchased another brand of plasticine without a second thought.
  • I would have chosen the shaving cream based on which brand was on sale versus which brand had the least amount of scent.
  • my school shopping expeditions were a lot shorter, and involved less time feeling and smelling items before buying them.
  • I definitely thought less about the decisions that I made.

In the end, I might have saved some money and time without these Self-Reg considerations, but what impact did my past decisions have on the kids in my class?

  • Did I blame the dysregulation on the children that just couldn’t control themselves?
  • Did I neglect seeing opportunities to change, and the positive possibilities that might come from these changes?
  • Did I manage not to make a difference for a kid that I could have made with just a few small changes and a little extra money and time?

A search for plasticine today has made me think even more about Self-Reg, and the impact that our decisions can have on children. Imagine if it’s not just about plasticine, but creating a learning environment where kids are calm, ready, and able to learn. What would you do if you were me? Here’s to hoping that there are other Dollarama Stores that still carry our favourite classroom necessity, and if not, carry the perfect substitute. Soon we’ll be entering into the last month of school, where year-end activities, field trips, and school events often lead to an even bigger need to focus on Self-Reg. Varied, calming sensory options might be even more important than before, and now hopefully you can understand why a plasticine product is most definitely blog post worthy.


2 thoughts on “Plasticine And Self-Reg: What Do You Do When Brands Change?

  1. I get it! I don’t use play dough with my class (grade 2/3) but find paint requires as much thought as you put into your plasticine! Will it be the right consistency? Will the blue be the right shade to use for mixing secondary colours? Will the brushes be just right? And on & on! And shaving cream…oy vey! Can they just make an unscented version already?! 😉

    • Thanks Lisa! Glad I’m not the only one. Our kids mix paint to make secondary colours as well, so those primary colours have us also thinking a lot. As for some good news, I did find an unscented shaving cream, but it’s more of a shaving gel. This is a different consistency, which can cause some problems of its own. Always so much to think about.


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