Mini Topic: Paper plates

Paper plates are cheap and readily available, providing opportunities to develop a range of physical and creative skills. Denise Bailey suggests uses for a versatile resource

Having a ready supply of circular card saves valuable time which would otherwise be spent cutting out circles.

Creative area

Provide plates in your setting's creative area for the children to use with materials such as boxes, paper, card and straws for designing and making.

For example:

  • Puppet faces Use writing and collage materials such as tissue paper, dry foods or wool to make features and hair. It may be best to first paint the plate to represent different skin colours or as a background to animal faces, for example, grey for elephants. Attach the masks to sticks and use them to enhance dramatic role play and counting rhymes. Alternatively, use the faces as part of a display on self-portraits or feelings, with happy or sad faces and comments on what makes children feel that way.
  • Animal models Use paper plates as the faces for box models of animals
  • Celebrations 'cards' Paper plates can be used as an alternative to making cards for celebrations and festivals such as Mother's Day and Diwali. Scribe a suitable message in the centre of the plate and let the children stick small collage items around the rim. Punch two holes in the top and thread ribbon through so that plates can be hung up.
  • Meals Glue pretend food to the plates for use in the home corner or picnics anywhere in the setting. To make sandwiches, glue together two squares or triangles of thin sponge with paper or paint in the middle to represent the filling. For pizzas, stick small pieces of coloured tissue, representing peppers, sweetcorn and so on, to a painted plate. Use painted dough to make a range of foods such as cakes, biscuits, sausages and samosas. Children may like making lots of small items representing chips, beans and peas.
  • Sewing Let children punch holes around the rims of plates and thread wool, string or ribbon through the holes. Use appropriate language such as in, out, up, down, over, under, through.
  • Hats Decorate one side of the plate and add ties at either side to keep the hat in place. Alternatively, cut the centre out of large paper plates and decorate to make simple halo-type hats which fit snugly on the head.


Use plates to link with and enhance your outdoor activities.

  • Mini gardens Children enjoy designing their own gardens using soil, leaves, small sticks and stones or shells. Use the gardens as part of an interactive display. Our children made a lovely big sunflower display by sticking dark beans or seeds to the middle of the plate and glueing large yellow petals to the outside.
  • Minibeasts To make ladybirds, colour a plate red, draw a dark line down the middle of the plate and stick the same number of black spots to each side. To make spiders, paint the plate black, add features, punch four holes on either side of the plate and attach pipe cleaners for legs. These activities are valuable for counting skills and developing mathematical language and understanding of concepts such as more, less, the same, equal. Cut several of the ladybirds in half and encourage the children to match up the two halves of the ladybirds by counting the spots.
  • Pain-free Frisbees Decorate two plates and glue them together with the convex side out. The plates won't travel very far and will become squashed and battered fairly quickly, but they make a useful alternative to balls and beanbags to develop hand-eye co-ordination and throwing and catching skills. You could also attach the plates in the same way to make flying saucers as part of a topic on space travel.
  • Mobiles To make mobiles, decorate both sides of a series of plates (choose a theme such as colours, animals or flowers) and suspend from a frame, or hang materials such as coloured pasta from the plates. Or decorate the plates, cut in a spiral from the outer rim to the centre, suspend from the central point and watch them twirl in the breeze.
  • Wheels Decorate plates and attach to big boxes to represent wheels on play vehicles or portholes on ships.

Maths area

  • Clocks Have a variety of real clocks available as examples. Use a butterfly clip to attach the hands to the centre of the clock and encourage the children to scribe the numbers round the clock face. Use the clocks as play materials in the home corner, as a stimulus for discussions about daily routines, or as props in games such as 'Mr Wolf'.
  • Sorting Use plates with numbers, shapes or colours on them to sort small-world materials.

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