The Epic Guide to Beeswax Modeling in Kindergarten

January 17, 2014

Children begin modeling on their own early on in toddlerhood as a natural part of exploring the world. Toddlers love to move and manipulate objects – stack blocks, dump baskets, hide toys. And when they get a material in their hands that changes form with manipulation – squishing food, scooping sand, patting mud pies – that’s modeling! What an amazing thing, to discover the potential of the hands.

Preschool-aged children will play endlessly with simple modeling materials – think playdough, sand-and-water play, rolling and cutting cookie shapes, and painting with their fingers. These games begin to take on an imaginative quality as well – the child becomes a baker or a destructive monster perhaps.

beeswax toadstool

Sometime in the kindergarten years, children develop an interest in forming an image that they have in their mind. All great toys are used for this creative purpose, craft materials are very useful at this age, and modeling materials are especially wonderful for learning to manipulate a substance into a form. The children’s imaginations are far more developed than the skills of their hands so making even very simple forms can go a long way.

And then with steady practice in the grades, those hand skills improve and modeling becomes an art form. Waldorf education has a strong focus on the arts for all grades and ages, not just as a separate subject but as a powerful vehicle for teaching in every subject. Jean Miller at Waldorf-inspired learning has a wonderful article about the Seven Lively Arts here.

Modeling in kindergarten can have a broad definition – and I think it’s the very best kind of “handwork” for young children.

2-year-old Sierra was so proud of her beeswax duck!

2-year-old Sierra was so proud of her beeswax duck!

Modeling is….

Shaping a malleable substance with the hands

Experiencing fundamental creativity and what it means to be a human being

An ancient art form

An essential part of child’s play from a very early age

Training for the amazing hands with their very sensitive and capable muscles

Rich sensory experience and exploration

A beautiful intersection of imaginative play, art, and story

….So would you like to give it a try?

Tips for pleasant modeling:

1. Kindergarten is a wonderful time for process-oriented learning (not product-oriented). This is a time for exploration, sensory experience, open-ended creativity, and free imaginative play. Skill-building and lessons can wait.

2. Young children learn through imitation. It’s great to model alongside them – just keep it low-pressure by making very simple shapes. Otherwise you run the risk of becoming an on-demand beeswax model-making factory while your child just sits there issuing commands. (Consider yourself forewarned.)

3. Enjoy the sensory experience of modeling – begin by exploring the material without making anything in particular. Be open to changes and surprises if what you’re making is different from what you imagined.

Wonderful modeling materials for young children (from toddlerhood through first grade and beyond):

sand and water
dirt and mud
homemade playdough
bread dough
wool (yes, definitely!)
beeswax modeling clay

Many parents have heard about beeswax modeling clay but they aren’t sure what to do with it (or if it’s worth the expense) – or they’ve tried it and found it frustrating to work with. Waldorf schools use beeswax for modeling and main lesson work from nursery age through third grade and it’s the medium of choice for schools for many reasons: It’s beautiful, natural, a wonderful sensory experience (it smells delicious, feels wonderful, and the colors are gorgeous), it absorbs warmth from the body, it keeps its shape when it cools, it can be rewarmed and reworked for years, and it’s an excellent will-building activity. Ok – but does it make sense for you to use it at home?

Well, I don’t believe in following any codified school plan in my homeschool, but I do believe in surrounding my little ones with beauty and warmth, trying new things with an open mind, and working towards understanding. Beeswax was not an instant hit for me but we all love working with it now and here’s why:

1. What I thought was a really expensive item turned out not to be because we’ve been using the same pack for over three years now – so let’s see, I spent about $8 per year on a material that we’ve used at least once a week in preschool, kindy, and first grade and will continue to use.

(I’ve also heard success stories from mamas making their own modeling clay – here is one recipe I found and here is another!)

2. It really is beautiful and so lovely to work with – if you follow some basic steps (read on!)

3. Beeswax modeling is a will-building activity – and so is learning new things as a homeschooling mama. I don’t always want to build my will, but then I’m always glad I did. This is getting off-topic. Let’s get back to modeling….

Run, run, as fast as you can! You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!

Run, run, as fast as you can!
You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!

Tips for working with beeswax:

A friend of mine tells her daughter, “Tea teaches us patience.” I think you could say the same thing about beeswax. It requires more focus, will, and warmth than other modeling materials, but it can be very enjoyable if you approach it with joy and wonder.

1. Start by giving your child one small warm piece of wax at a time. Work with one color at a time.

2. You might like to pre-warm the wax by setting it in a warm spot (like a radiator or direct sunlight) or putting it in a plastic baggie and letting it sit in a bowl of hot water. You can keep warmed-up wax warm in your armpit or bra (and then you’re diehard Waldorf – congratulations!).

3. Let your child hold a piece of wax in her hands while you tell a story. See what shapes naturally arise as you tell the story.

4. Start as simply as possible. After you and your child are very comfortable playing with beeswax modeling clay and shaping it, then you might like to start making some simple forms from nature or a story such as apples, vegetables, a basket, a bear’s cave, or a toadstool.

5. When you’re done, return the wax to the shape of small disks about the size of a half dollar – this will make it easier to warm up and work with next time. (Balls take longer to warm up because they have less surface area).

6. Sometimes you might want to keep creations in a storytelling play basket or for display on the nature table.

7. Keep it light in kindergarten. Some children might find working with beeswax too intense and that’s ok. Make sure they have opportunities to play in the sandbox, knead dough in the kitchen, and play with playdough.

8. Modeling could be part of your weekly rhythm, or available for everyday playtime. Beeswax is also a wonderful take-with-you activity. Your children might love to hold it in their hands during a story, in the car, during rest/quiet time, while you read a picture book, while waiting at the dentist’s office…..and watch what beautiful forms emerge!

beeswax nest

I would love to hear from you! What modeling materials does your child love to play with? Have you tried beeswax? What do you love most and struggle with the most? Share with us in the comments below!

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Wendy LaPointe January 17, 2014 at 10:17 am

We don’t use any animal products/derivatives in our home, so I appreciate the list of alternatives! Thanks for sharing.

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Kelly January 17, 2014 at 11:31 am

Hi Wendy, you’re welcome and there are so many ways to make your own modeling materials too. My littles love to make up their own playdough recipes (we call it potion plan). If you have more vegan ideas please do share – I’m sure you’re not the only one!

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Kimberly March 7, 2014 at 6:57 pm

My daughter is really wanting to try out wax modeling (we’ve done all the other mediums), but I have yet to find a pre-made vegan alternative. Maybe we could make our own with carnauba, candelilla, or soy and add natural colors? I have some candelilla on hand, so I’ll try that first (it seems to have a melting point closest to beeswax). Any recipe ideas? Just melt & mix, lol? I may be on to something here……

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Kelly March 8, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Hi Kimberly, I’m sorry, I don’t have any experience with making my own wax. I hope you discover or invent an amazing vegan recipe!

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Kimberly March 9, 2014 at 3:26 pm

I’ll be sure to pass it on once we do! :)

Sheri January 17, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Crazy coincidence…I wrote about slow crafts, like modelling with beeswax, and how they can make artistic expression a little bit more accessible for those who don’t label themselves as artistically inclined. The slower pace forced on the maker allows the form to come together better than when a “fast” material, like play-dough is used. At least for me anyway. I feel I can make something beautiful even though artistic expression/visual arts aren’t where my talents lie. And patience is a great thing for me to practice too. And it’s like meditation in motion. Love it!

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Lynn January 17, 2014 at 6:28 pm

It makes3 of us; I too have blogged about modeling with beeswax. Both of my sons (5 & 8) have fun using Stockmar beeswax in conjunction with our nature studies and our storybooks. We are just about finished with Charlottes Web, so I think a beeswax spider and pig are coming up.

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Kelly January 18, 2014 at 7:27 am

Happy modeling Lynn! :)

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Sue N. January 17, 2014 at 11:30 pm

Thanks, Kelly, for the reminder. Beeswax has sort of fallen off my radar but I’d like to take it out again. I have seen it being kept warm on a hot water bottle with a cozy, helpful for me with my chilly hands in winter months.

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Kelly January 18, 2014 at 7:30 am

You’re welcome Sue – I love the hot water bottle idea, thank you so much for sharing! :)

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KaMarlowete January 18, 2014 at 8:50 am

This might sound gross, but my 8 year old likes to use the wax from the little cheese his great-grandparents purchase as modeling wax! I think he’d look forward to a less dairy alternative.

As a grad student in speech-language pathology, I get to “work” in many settings. Last semester, my practicum supervisor was in an elementary school, and one of the kindergarten teachers there had the kids rolling dough out to form onto laminated alphabet cards. I loved this idea, not just for the alphabet, but for shapes, paths, etc. Such an easy way to target fine motor skills.

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Kelly January 20, 2014 at 6:07 pm

Hi Kate, I don’t think it’s gross at all and in fact my girls have duped me more than once into buying the cheese with wax – of course it turned out they wouldn’t eat the cheese but loved to play with that wax! Just goes to show how much children love modeling materials. :)

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Jean January 18, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Great “epic” post on beeswax modelling, Kelly. Oh, so helpful. I remember when my boys were little, how frustrated they were with those first experiences before I figured out how to warm the wax up especially in wintertime! For the early elementary years, it’s fun to build collective scenes of fairy tales or animal stories, too. Gives busy bodies something to do while listening. We went through a diorama phase where we would keep adding to a scene for weeks. Even teens like modelling with beeswax, and I’ve only bought new maybe twice in twenty years!

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Kelly January 20, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Thank you Jean! Yes, the beeswax is glorious but only if it is fully warmed up! Another reader left the hot water bottle tip which I love and my favorite was when I had a black table that got direct sunlight – we would just set out the wax there and it was amazing how quickly it softened. That’s amazing how long your beeswax lasted. I want to do more of what you suggested, building scenes together from our stories, I know Aiya would love that!

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sheila January 19, 2014 at 8:29 pm

So glad you mentioned the beeswax in the bra tip! It’s my personal favorite.
I will be passing this post along in my Links and Thinks next month. It is so thorough!
Hope you are well.

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Kelly January 20, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Thank you so much Sheila, you are so kind! Yup, and bonus points for leaving the house with beeswax still in your bra or in your armpit (wink wink)!

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Lacey January 23, 2014 at 8:28 pm

I can’t believe I’ve never been to your space before. This is fantastic! We’ve had modeling wax for years and we use it from time to time, but your suggestions are just perfect. I’ve never been to an actual Waldorf School and generally feel like I’m making it all up on the fly with materials I’ve never used before! Anyway–thanks SO much for this explanation!

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Kelly January 24, 2014 at 6:43 am

Hi Lacey, thank you so much for your comment and I’m so happy to have you here!

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Lena February 5, 2014 at 2:46 pm

This is our new favorite art form around our house! It isn’t super messy, everyone can be involved even the two year old, and it reminds Mama to actually tell a story. Plus I am not terribly creative, but this is a media that works for me. Also discovered some artistic blossoming from the three year old boy. Who knew?

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Kelly February 5, 2014 at 5:11 pm

Lena, that’s great! Thank you for sharing! :)

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Whispered Abundance February 8, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Love this! My two little girls struggle with fine motor skills, I attribute some to left-hand dominance in a right handed world. I’ve been looking for ways to encourage strength and dexterixty through play and this is wonderful! I just bought some modeling beeswax and look forward to gleaning more from your blog (I just learned of it today!). I do hope that you share more on “how” to use the wool.
~Loving on my little people – and my big ones, too!

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Kelly February 9, 2014 at 1:44 pm

I’m so happy you’re here! Thank you for reading along and commenting and I hope you all enjoy working with beeswax. :)

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Kelli February 24, 2014 at 5:24 pm

Do hobby stores generally carry beeswax or do I need to hunt for it online? Obviously, I can just go to the store and check, but you might save me a trip with all the kiddos!! I am so loving your site–your posts on rhythm have changed my life.

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Kelly February 24, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Thank you for your sweet comment Kelli, you made my day! :) You probably won’t find beeswax modeling clay at a hobby store (unless you’re lucky enough to have a local Waldorf school with a shop!) but you’ll find it easily online. You could start with Meadowsweet Naturals (www.meadowsweetnaturals.com) I hope you enjoy it!

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