Playdough use offends some

02:06, Aug 25 2012
Aoife-May Crosby
HAVING FUN: Aoife-May Crosby, 2, left, and Max Newcombe-Maule enjoy using playdough at Cherry’s Early Learning Centre in Beckenham. Some centres no longer use playdough because it is considered culturally insensitive to use food for play.

The days of making macaroni necklaces and potato prints at kindergarten are quickly becoming a thing of the past - and playdough may be the next to go.

Many early-learning centres are banning, or at least restricting, the use of food as a play tool because it is deemed culturally insensitive, or "bad tikanga".

Some Maori centres have even stopped using playdough because it is made from edible ingredients.

Last week, Amy Clark, Christchurch-based director of early learning centre website My Child New Zealand, posted on the group's Facebook page an activity using the unwanted end of a celery stick to paint a rose. The post sparked a heated online debate.

"Someone questioned whether it was OK to do that," she said.

Clark said there appeared to be a "general consensus" only food unfit for consumption could be used in art, although one mother posted: "I would still go ahead to use my vegetables to paint".


Titoki Black, from the Te Kohanga Reo National Trust said some of their rural and Auckland centres did not use playdough.

The trust has several Maori early childhood centres across New Zealand, including in Christchurch.

"Because it is made from flour and water, which is used to make bread, Maori are not comfortable about using playdough and having it thrown around, turning it into beads and wearing it around your neck," she said.

"Anything from the land. Clay, leaves, that's what we are encouraging. It's not that all kohanga reo are banning [playdough], it's just that it's Maori practice that you do not play with food."

Christchurch pre-schools The Press spoke to had not banned playdough but were careful about food use.

Kimihia Early Learning Centre manager Maureen Holden said they had a policy not to use food as a teaching tool. The centre still allowed the use of playdough but would look at a change if an alternative was available.

"You'd be hard pressed to find a pre-school or kindergarten that uses food. Food is for eating," she said.

"It's bad tikanga and there's families out there that are lacking food."

Cherry's Early Learning Centre manager Gill White said they viewed it as disrespectful to play with food when people in the world were starving.

In the past they had used fruit and potatoes for printing and macaroni for pasting and threading, but "the thinking has shifted".

The centre had no plans to ban playdough, but was likely to review its use of wheat seeds and cornflour, she said.

An-Nur Muslim childcare centre manager Maysoon Salama said they followed Islamic philosophy to avoid using food for play as much as possible.

College of Education early childhood co-ordinator Glynne Mackey said most pre-schools banned the use of dried macaroni and potato for this reason.

"Generally speaking, if it is an edible food, you don't play with it. But then you get down to the question of playdough. Centres make up their own mind around those kind of issues."

Christchurch teacher Sally Foley, who works at Cherry's Early Learning Centre, said banning playdough would be political correctness gone "crazy".

The Education Ministry regulations do not address using food at early learning centres.

The Press