We sing the song every year:
Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay, and when it’s dry and ready, then dreidel I shall play.
But I’ve never actually made a dreidel out of clay, nor of anything else. Neither had my 3 year-old. So this year we got busy.
I found a brick of oven-bake polymer clay in the Box o’ Clay. It promised to be light-weight, strong and quick, and we wouldn’t have to sit around and watch organic clay air-dry.
SHAPE: Molding the dreidels was just trial and error. We started with a basic rectangular prism and then added a blob for the tip and a thinner blob for the handle. I’d noticed that on wooden dreidels the more rounded a tip, the more stable the spin. Pointy dreidels tend to wobble right away.
We didn’t go for spherical, but a gentle roundy-moundy. An outright spherical base spins on a tangential point, so less of the surface will touch the table. Less friction means it should spin longer. And, if most of the weight is toward the base, the low center of gravity will cause the dreidel to tip less, making the spin
longer, too. I kept this mini-physics lesson in mind, but I didn’t share it with my kid. We were just exploring, after all, and though we did have a goal, I wanted to keep it as open-ended and light as I could. As you might imagine, open-ended and light can be a challenge.
The dreidels turned out fine. Lumpy and a bit wobbly, but by golly they spun, and they had enough of four sides to actually land on one. We were thrilled.
PAINT: My one problem was not reading the directions on what sort of paint to use on the clay. We reached for the poster paint because it was the closest, but poster paint is water-based, so it didn’t cover well and then, when it dried, it scratched off with the gentlest exploratory fingernail.
Sealing this with clear spray paint was an even worse mistake, because the smell drove us to banish the off-gassing dreidels to the screened porch.
So, we found the acrylic paint tubes and covered the dreidels with a coat of what the clay manufacturer suggested in the first place.
And it worked.
Had to draw the letters on with a Sharpie, which made the dreidels smell bad again, but the off-gassing didn’t last long. Next year I will use paint. Acrylic paint.
And now when we sing the song, we can mean it.
Explore simple dreidel physics lesson with the excellent book: Four Sides, Eight Nights: a New Spin on Hanukkah by Rebecca Tova Ben-Zvi, illustrated by Susanna Natti. It came out in 2005 and is a great well-rounded holiday reference for middle graders (and adults, too).