There are six art forms that I strive to introduce my art students to while they are in my classes: drawing, painting, printmaking, collage, construction, and clay. Of all these six, I think children get the most excited about clay. Their response is so visceral, they instinctively jump and clap with joy! Clay exploration with young children is all about experiencing the material – cold, squishy, sticky – no instructions are needed. It’s the perfect process art experience.
One note about the clay, I am not an expert on what type of clay to order, I do think they all work about the same. I have a link to what I ordered, but you can easily just grab some at the art store. Clay is different from using play dough. Clay is from the earth, has a cold feel to it and an earthy smell. You can build more intricate things and the weight allows for taller structures. We love play dough and make it often, but clay is a whole different experience.
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Materials needed for Clay Exploration:
~ Clay (I think we bought the 25 pound bag, but that lasted me many classes with 6 kids)
~ Any other materials that you can poke or push into the clay, such as corks, straws, twigs, beads, fabric scraps, and lace doilies (from the thrift store, but you can get some on Amazon)
How to set up for Clay Exploration:
1. Set up the table by giving every child some space and board to work on. (We used cardboard and the turntables, but since then I have purchased the proper clay boards.) Set the tools and materials in the center.
2. Give each child a chunk of clay. They LOVE using the wire cutter. When they are little, you can have them help. I had to eventually put it away for this group because it became and obsession and they couldn’t stop!
3. No other instructions needed, just let them explore!
They can use tools to poke holes into the clay…
They will experiment with making patterns on the clay…
They will discover how they can stick things into the clay and the object will stay upright…
They can push in beads, and stack straws on a stick…
They can cover their clay and push on it through fabric….
They can find other things on the art shelves, like tape, and turn their experiment into something more concrete, like a boat…
They can build a bridge with twigs…
They can pull off smaller pieces and create more detail…
They can rework and rebuild and play and create until class is over and then they can stand back and look at their work and declare, “It’s finished.”
These clay pieces dried for a week, turning a light gray color. I’ve read on other blogs that you can add a sealant to them so they don’t crack and get brittle.
Once they have explored the clay well enough, you can start teaching them some techniques, like coil pots, pinch pots, and hand building. Visit my friend Samara’s blog Purple Twig for lots more structured clay classes with kids. She has a kiln in her studio so she’s at a whole different level. Her students make SUCH amazing things.
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Did you like this post? Here are some more tactile and sensory experiences with kids: