Sculpture is a classic theater game that I love to play at home since it sparks imagination and gets me bonding with my son.
Beyond just a rainy-day game, this one is great on playdates too since a little bit of structure can go a long way in unleashing the imagination. I also love the Sculpture Game as a wind-down before bedtime since the relaxing nature of it makes it a natural sleep-aid for kids.
Sculpture is also great in any of those moments where it is tempting to give into those requests for more screen-time! It is a serious teaching tool as well since kids expand their vocabulary and deepen their EQ depending on what you choose to title the sculpture.
Watch this video to learn how to play Sculpture
How To Play
First Get Calm!
“Sculpture” requires focus and concentration from the get-go. Therefore, you may need help calming your kids’ bodies down. Here are suggestions on how to get relaxed kids before you play:
- Play a physical game like tag or obstacle course to get the sillies out.
- Use a chant or a song to get calm.
- Turn on relaxing music to set the mood.
- Do some deep breathing.
Talk about Clay, Artists and Sculpture
Context is important and the success of this game is reliant on a great set-up. Here’s how I play it in my classrooms and birthday parties with Child’s Play NY.
- Give a frame of reference: I love to introduce this activity by asking kids if they’ve seen a sculpture in a museum. You can even show them some images of famous sculptures. I like Degas’ The Little Dancer and The Thinker by Rodin.
- Conjure a molding memory: Ask kids to remember working with clay, putty or play-doh. Likely, they will have a kinesthetic memory of molding and shaping these substances.
- Purposeful imagination: Most importantly, encourage kids to remember that there is a purposefulness to an artist’s work, and that the clay respects the artist’s hands and stays where it is molded. That understanding of their roles will come in handy when you start the game.
Set the Ground-rules for Safety
Since it is a physical game where children are manipulating other children’s bodies, this step is crucial for a safe and happy experience.
- Discuss where we hinge. Talk about the flexible parts of the body and where we can move: (for instance, elbows, knees, hips, ankles). Those will be the parts of the body that the sculptor can work with.
- Mirror the face, don’t mold the face. This is important for a sense of calm from your Clay. If they think their face is going to be touched, it immediately makes kids, understandably, skittish. Therefore it is important to show that the face is not to be touched. When you are ready to make the face on your clay, artists must use their own face as a mirror and show the clay what they want. Magically, of course, the clay will do it. Here’s more tips and a video on how to play the mirror game.
- Move slowly. If you’ve established a relaxed vibe, with music and the discussion of the the way an artist works, this step should take care of itself. However, some children may need a little extra reminder that they are to sculpt slowly. Encourage the artist to move in slow motion.
Cast your Clay and Artist
Now that kids have the requisite understanding of the game, and understand the responsibilities of the artist and clay, it is time to let them pick parts! Whenever possible, I like to allow children to choose which role they would like to be first. It is important to allow for the children to be able to experience both parts so build in time to allow them to switch as well.
Find a Title
In this game, the title is the ultimate springboard of the imagination. From that little bit of form comes so much freedom!
The following are my suggestions based on age. No doubt you will find your own variations that work for you and your kids.
Pre-K and Kindergarten
- Mash-up adjectives, nouns and/or verbs in unexpected combinations. Kids can pick from a hat or use a story that they just read to inspire them if they are generating the title. Pick things that tickle the funny-bone and always opt for silly juxtapositions. Here are examples: The Hiccuping Lizard, The Fearful Dragon, The Messy Princess Can’t Stop Sneezing.
- Use this as a way to talk about emotions. Kids can sculpt Anger, Sadness, Glee, and other concepts that you want to address.
- Have a picture inspire a picture. Use an illustration in a book to springboard the sculpture. Kids can name the image and then recreate it as the “artist”.
- Use the title of a book, play or movie.
- The artist can sculpt more than one child at a time.
- Use a quote. In the video above we are using our lines from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to help isolate the most dramatic moment.
- Start sculpting, let imagination take over, and THEN find a title.
- Use this as a way to practice reading hard words, since you can write down the titles and have kids read them back to you.
- Kids can write down titles and pull them from a hat. You can guess who made which title!
As You Sculpt
- Demonstrate a neutral, still body. That’s important for the Clay. Essentially, the Clay lets go of control and allows themselves to be molded by the artist. However, that can’t happen if the Clay is moving around or presenting anything other than stillness for the Artist.
- Encourage NO TALKING. It will be tempting for the Artist to want to speak with clay – and tell it where or how to move. It is crucial that children communicate through Touch and not through Language.
- Create a safe space (whatever this means to you in your home or class) where there are no judgements and the Artist can mold their masterpiece.
- Use a (relaxing) timer or a song to provide a limit on the amount of sculpting
Variations that Spark More Imagination
The Artist can wind the sculpture up and let it come to life, move and even speak!
Have multiple Clays and one Artist working to make a tableau scene. The scene can come to life on a given signal.
Sculptures works well with a larger group, as a playdate game, a birthday party game, or in a classroom. Have simultaneous sculpting and then, on your signal, stop working and allow the artists to walk around the gallery of sculptures.
Let the viewers ask the Artist questions about their work as if they were in a Gallery Talk Back with a famous sculptor: “What inspired your sculpture?” “What is your next piece about?” “ Do you have an alternate title?”.
Why This Game Is Important
This game is fantastic for children’s development. Here’s why:
Relaxation and Mindfulness
No doubt we could all use more creative tools to unwind our kids before bedtime. This is a playful way to transition to sleep. It has a super relaxing effect on both the Artist and the Clay. Weave it into your pre-sleep routine and see if it doesn’t add a little mindful relaxation before bedtime.
Switching up the roles of artist and clay forces kids to take risks and experience a part that might not immediately be comfortable for them.
Impulse Control through Play
A core executive function skill is impulse control. Kids need to practice using their calm bodies and inhibiting unproductive impulses. Through a simple game like sculptures, both the clay and artists are getting this kind of practice, all through play!
Deepening understanding of literature and language
The titles of the sculptures can enhance understanding of a book you just read or a character’s motivations. In my Shakespeare classes we use this to dissect what a character says or to experience different points of view. In Twelfth Night we played around with these different titles: How Malvolio Sees Himself. How The World Sees Malvolio. The contrast was stunning and sparked a great understanding of the character.
Kids are practicing teamwork and learning a deep collaboration as they sculpt each other. Even if you are just playing it one-on-one this game is great to help kids with turn-taking, which is another essential Executive Function skill.
There is a kinesthetic awareness that kids are picking up on when they play Sculptures. This is a kind of listening that happens that doesn’t have to do with ears, but rather with body awareness.
A Gateway to Complex Feelings
If something complex is going on in your family (and when isn’t it!?), such as a new sibling, a move, the death of a pet, etc, this game can be an empowering way for kids express emotion. Through sculptures, kids can work through these difficult topics, and show adults how they are feeling. Come up with titles together such as “Moving is Hard” or “The Day My Brother Was Born” and allow your child to mold you. Through the body shapes and the face-mirroring you will be allowing her a release and it opens up doors for conversations that might otherwise not have happened.
If for no other reason, this game allows parent-child, sibling and friend bonding since there is a huge amount of trust, and listening that goes into the successful playing.
Hope you enjoy Sculpture and let me know how it goes for you!
Thanks for watching and playing!