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Junk modelling and mark-making

What you need

  • Various materials, such as used tissue boxes, kitchen roll tubes, cardboard boxes, old furniture or clothing (could be a chair that your child no longer uses or a pair of old jeans/an old t-shirt).
  • Mark-making and sticking tools such as paintbrushes, toothbrushes, pencils, markers, crayons, paint, glue, sellotape, etc.
  • Your imagination!


  • Exploring different textures, sizes, shapes and ways of mark-making.
  • Improves fine motor skills i.e. using and showing control over mark-making tools, using pincer grip (holding tool between thumb and two fingers) – encouraging pre-writing skills. 
  • Exploring colour and how they change when 2 colours are mixed together.
  • This activity can also support enveloping schemas – children with this schema like to cover or enclose themselves or objects, for example, covering themselves in paint, glue, materials, etc. Even young babies love exploring boxes, crawling into them and using it as a nice place to hide out!

The experience

Lay out your materials and resources in an area where you can get a little messy. Allow your child to choose whatever materials and ways they wish to start creating – you could preempt this by talking about their favourite things. For example, do they like firefighters? You could make a fire engine and hose together using some tissue boxes, paint, etc. 


You could stack some materials on top of one another to make a tall tower! (This is also a great way to introduce prepositions such as on top, next to, under). Once stacked, explore what can be used to stick them together, “I wonder how we can stick these together to make a tower?” – trial and error your sticking materials to see which works best. Let your child use their problem-solving skills to make suggestions and support these. If one does not work, discuss – “I wonder if something else could work?”

You could then paint the tower or stick lots of material on it to make a wonderful creation. If your child simply enjoys getting messy, let them explore and create! There does not have to be an end result – open-ended play is great and puts no pressure on the child; it’s just fun and allows them to explore texture, colours and so on!