Magic happens when a small lump of polymer clay takes shape. At first it's just a colorful blob. Then suddenly, with the help of a child's imagination and a little rolling and smushing, a tiny nose appears, two circles seem to stare, a skinny strand breaks into a smile -- and the creation comes to life. The amazing quality of polymer clay is that it stretches as you work with it, so no matter how the design starts out, it may surprise you in the end: Stripes can veer into zigzags; a flower's petals may blossom even larger.
For the projects here, we used clay in many ways. Snakes of clay were twisted and mashed together until the colors marbleized; dots, swirls, and flowers were applied to balls of clay. Whatever you're shaping, you'll need to make the clay soft and pliable. When a new package is opened, the clay may feel hard or crumbly -- just knead it and roll it in your hands. Be sure hands are clean when switching to a different color so the shade doesn't transfer.
Safety Note: An adult should cook the clay creations: Place pieces in a baking dish or pan that's lined with parchment paper or index cards (this helps avoid shiny spots). Then bake in the oven at 275 degrees (use an oven thermometer) for 6 to 15 minutes, or according to package directions. If the clay hasn't hardened after it cools, bake it for a few minutes more.