In our screen-saturated world, it's more imperative than ever that students get a break from their devices while learning. The most engaged student will encounter a variety of learning modalities and activities throughout their school day. Kinesthetic or hands-on learning is one such modality, involving a student participating in physical activity to gain knowledge. Quite versatile, silly putty offers an inexpensive option for educators to build skills or provide therapeutic, sensory brain breaks.
Why Silly Putty?
While there are numerous soft and squishy materials on the market, Silly Putty is tried and true. Interestingly, Silly Putty made its debut in the toy market in a rather accidental way. According to Jennifer Rosenberg in her article "A Short History of the Ball of Goo Called Silly Putty" engineer James Wright formulated Silly Putty in response to a rubber shortage caused by World War II. Wright's experimental material captivated Americans, eventually rivaling top toys of the 1950s. In 1977 Crayola founders Binney and Smith bought the now household name.
Learn more: Thought Co.
23 Uses for Silly Putty in an Educational Setting
Aside from the obvious molding and bouncing, Silly Putty lends itself to some creative uses that are bound to engage even the reluctant learner. This curated list of uses may spark some ideas for you to use within your lessons and units across all age and content areas.
Therapeutic and Sensory
1. A bit of silly putty around a pencil or pen may help students concentrate while writing. On his site "Wacky Uses" author Joey Green goes as far as to say that this trick promotes mindfulness. Plus, it raises some physical comfort for students, especially when composing substantial text or writing over a long time period.
Learn more: Wacky Uses
3. Like any therapeutic tool, Silly Putty can give students an outlet for their frustration or fatigue. When educators notice the student losing concentration or productivity, they can simply ask students to squeeze the Silly Putty ball 10 times in each hand and practice deep breathing.
4. Special education or therapeutic emotional support case workers may find that Silly Putty could serve as an emotional regulation tool. With a bit of Silly Putty at each desk, teachers could easily measure how a student is self-regulating their emotions, helpful for IEP monitoring.
4. Use Silly Putty as a gateway to discuss liquid and solid properties. After stretching the silly putty and examining how it changes from a presumably solid ball to a near viscous liquid, students can research boric acid and silicone oil, the two main ingredients. To build in a layer of literacy, secondary educators could accompany the lesson with relevant articles like WQED's "Scientists Find Another Use for Silly Putty Other Than Messing Up Your Sofa" and ask students to respond either individually or collaboratively.
Learn more: KQED
5. Make Silly Putty! A variety of videos like this one can provide demonstrations for educators to prepare the ingredients and materials required. PBS also provides easy-to-follow instructions in their resource here.
Learn more: PBS Kids for Parents
6. Ask students to use Silly Putty to fix a problem. Perhaps you present students will a rattling machine or some other mechanical issue. Task small groups or individuals to think outside of the box on how to use this material.
8. Use Silly Putty experiments to spark curiosity. There are a number of these experiments on YouTube like this North Carolina State University Silly Putty "drop" on glass. Students could first predict whether the Silly Putty would break the glass and discuss their rationale.
Learn more: NC State Bulletin
9. In forensics or introduction to criminal studies lesson, use Silly Putty to gather fingerprints.
10. Use Silly Putty to introduce the concept of non-Newtonian fluids. This article provides background on how the Apollo 8 astronauts used Silly Putty in space and how robotic engineers have continued to use the substance for progress in the field.
Learn more: Dusty Old Thing
11. Have students examine the polymer structure of Silly Putty. This University of Maryland resource breaks down the molecular information of silly putty.
Learn more: University of Maryland
ELA, History, Art, and Humanities
13. Make a Silly Putty ball to toss around the classroom. Teachers can "call on" students by throwing them the ball or students can engage their peers by throwing it at each other.
14. Use Silly Putty in a team-building exercise. Ask students to work together to compete in a challenge such as stretching their Silly Putty the longest.
15. Use Silly Putty as a sculpture medium. Students studying art and sculpture can use Silly Putty for a low-stakes assignment in preparation for clay.
17. Change the sound produced by drums by using Silly Putty as a dampener.
Other practical uses in an educational setting
21. Wrap a layer around a can or cold drink to avoid condensation on your papers.
22. When working with tools or smaller materials, use Silly Putty to keep them separated and accounted for.
23. Remove ink or color stains of nuisance from desks or other surfaces in the classroom.
As you can see, Silly Putty, though a simple material, provides numerous opportunities for students to engage in their learning. It's versatile and easy to incorporate!