Soap Carving with Preschoolers


We are deep in an investigation of rocks and fossils around here. Every day handfuls of both come into the house for cleaning, sorting, categorizing, and creating. You would be amazed at the wonderful variety of topics one can dive into with this area as a starting point; I know I was. Rocks are pretty omnipresent.

We've made a couple trips to the geology section of our Natural History Museum and when we reflected on each of those excursions Silas said that seeing the arrowheads and spear points was his favorite part. This has generated much conversation including the question, "how do you make arrowheads, mom?" 

Not one to turn down a challenge I started mapping chert locations in our county and adding rock picks to my Amazon cart with a grand plan of days spent flint knapping. Resource gathering is my super power, I've discovered. But then I slowed down, took a breath, and reminded myself. Silas is four. Let's start a little smaller, shall we?

So, soap carving it was. And it was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon together. Ivory bar soap comes highly recommended (they do sponsor soap carving competitions, after all) so that's what we used and I have to agree that it was very easy and satisfying to carve. My only complaint was the smell. They claim to be free of "heavy perfumes," but I found the scent to be a little much for us. We're generally a scent-free household, though, so I'm sure we're more sensitive to it than most.


We started by drawing the outline of an arrowhead on the top of our bars of soap. Then we experimented with a variety of carving tools: bamboo knives, regular butter knives, and a toddler-sized butter knife. For Silas, the toddler-sized butter knife was the easiest to maneuver. Initially, he wanted to saw off chunks of the soap, but I demonstrated on my own carving how to chip away bit by bit and he soon got the idea.

Before long, we had carved two arrowheads. Of course, they then had to be tied to some wooden dowels to make spears so that we could hunt for some woolly mammoths in the backyard.

We used the resulting soap chips to make ghost mud, which was a "meh" experience. Silas has never been one for getting elbow-deep in anything that's messy and gooey, so this wasn't an activity that I would seek out to do unless I had soap chips lying around.

When all was said and done, carving soap together was a great hands-on way to answer his question. It also may have inspired me to keep a couple bars of soap stashed away to pull out this winter when we're stuck inside and are all going a little stir crazy.

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