But this is! Promise.
So play clay is easier for kids to say than polymer clay, and certainly sounds more enticing. As easy to mould as playdoh, but with lasting results with a little time in the oven.
When I was little, my mum used to be Queen of Fimo. She made everything and anything she could and also taught classes at our local Hi-Time. She works well with her hands and has a lot of patience - two important qualities to possess when working with such tiny, delicate pieces and shapes of clay. She could make a perfect rose the size of the ball on the end of a sewing pin. We all had name brooches that were decorated in the corners with tiny, colourful flowers. We wore them to events where there were big crowds. If we got lost, at least people would know what name to call out over the loud speaker.
So.. what to do/what you'll need etc…
There are different types of polymer clay. You can buy plain white/brown and once baked and set, use acrylic paints to colour your creations. Or you can do what we did, and buy the coloured clay (the thought of the kids painting with acrylics on such tiny objects was too much for me). Unfortunately both stores I tried were low on stock and so it was slim pickings with the colours. But if you can find a well stocked store, the variety of colours is great - bold and bright, or soft and pastel. We bought ours from Spotlight ($4.50 per square, which can make a lot of beads).
You don't need any special tools. Sure, the craft store sells specialist clay tools right next to the stash of clay, but you don't need the extra expense unless you're a hardcore crafter or selling your wares. A sharp kitchen knife, a handful of large thick skewers (yes, like you stick in chicken or test your cake with to see if it's cooked) and some tools from the playdoh box will serve you well.
The colour in your clay will transfer - onto your hands, your knife, your skewer, whatever surface you are working on - sometimes not much, but enough to transfer to your next clay colour. Because you need to work on a flat surface, we used chopping boards with a sheet of baking paper over the top, flipping the baking paper with each new colour and replacing when needed. Same deal with the skewers - if you're poking holes through a variety of coloured balls to make beads, you need to use a new skewer for each colour. Cleaning your hands in between each clay colour is annoying, but necessary - unless you want red streaks through your bright white clay.
Forget perfection. This was our first time using polymer clay so we were hardly going to be experts. While the clay softens really quickly once you start rolling between your palms, it can be tricky to show enough care and a light touch when getting the clay to do what you want, especially if it's small and intricate. Patience and time are your friend! Personally, I found the tiny blemishes or inconsistency in each bead or creation made them more beautiful and unique.
Shaping your beads. Given it was our first try with the polymer clay, I didn't want to be over ambitious, so we stuck to simple shapes for the beads. My favourite beads to make were the dented ones (very hard to photograph to show the dents). To get this effect, make a regular round bead, poke your hole through using a skewer, and then use the flat edge of the tip of your knife to gently push against the bead (while still on the skewer), making random flat spots all over the bead.
Technique. Making the holes in your beads shouldn't be rushed. I found the best way to get a clean hole was to pierce the clay from both sides - so with your bead on a flat surface (like below), push the skewer through the clay to the bottom, then remove by gently twisting the skewer so it comes out cleanly - now turn your bead over and do the same again from the other side, this time turning your skewer again as you push it further through the hole, and again - twisting as you pull it out.
Brooches. I think the repetition of making beads was too boring for the kids, so they really loved creating brooches - my five year old in particular. Faces, shapes or using the skewers to write on simple discs. If you have children who are confident using a small knife, they can roll out some clay and cut small shapes to attach to hair pins, or earring backs.
Baking your clay is easy. The packaging only gave us a guide on the temperature to cure them at, but no length of time. So, Google told me it's around 15 minutes per quarter inch of clay at 125 degrees celsius. I read that many clay enthusiasts bake for twice the recommended amount of time to ensure a really solid finished product. So I did too. The thin beads were baked for half an hour, and the round beads and brooches for an hour. The brighter colours dulled a little while in the oven but was happy to find once cooled they came back to their starting colour.
Attaching your brooch backs is as easy as a bit of superglue and taking care to make sure your brooch back is up the right way! (Craft glue won't work because of the composition of the clay, so you will need to use superglue or specific polymer clay glue which you will find with the clay supplies at your craft store, but is quite pricey.) Leave to dry completely and then watch your kids marvel at their creations!
Leaving the kids to assemble the necklaces is a great threading activity. They all had a go and were happy to model their work once I tied them off. All the additional bits and pieces you see - twine, brooch backs, hair pins, kilt pins - were all purchased from Spotlight for a few dollars a packet. The leather twine can be bought pre-packaged, but I found better value and range of thickness in having it cut from the roll (about $1.50 per metre).
We have loads of clay left over that will come in very handy in a few months' time when we need to think about teacher gifts. It can feel like a hefty outlay on supplies (around $60 on everything we bought) but the amount of things you can make from the supplies we purchased, is well worth it. I know some kindy teachers who would proudly wear my son's brooch creations come Christmas time!