Sunday, January 11, 2009

Clay Work Finally Makes It Debut

I have wanted to have a table available for clay work since the beginning of this school year. Yet, I had so many other art lessons planned that it took until this past Friday to finally set up the work and give a presentation on it.

Over the past few months, however, I researched and read many articles on teaching children how to work with clay. I would highly recommend "Clay for Toddlers and Preschoolers - How and Why" by Marvin Bartel, Ed.D (

A few of my favorite quotes from his article are:

"Manipulating a piece of clay develops the child's large and small muscles. Clay play fosters eye-hand coordination. Soft clay is receptive and responsive to all kinds of emotional expression. Clay is so fascinating that some children work for long periods without any adult motivation to maintain their interest. It can be a great way to extend the attention span of some children."

"I do not expect first efforts to be easy to recognize, but I affirm them. Sometimes I cannot tell what the child is trying to make. I say 'This is a good job. Can you tell me more about it?' I do not ask, 'What is it?' because I do not want to insult the child."

"As adult observers, caregivers, or teachers, we can play the role of artist's muse. With a little thought and practice, any adult...can learn to lead a child's creative thinking. As muse, I do not show children what to do or what to make. As muse, I am not really trying to teach them how to make something - I am trying to inspire them to develop and express their own ideas..."

I encourage you to read his entire article and the others he has written about children and art.

For my presentation, I put out a few clay tools. I did not put out a rolling pin or cookie cutters as I had also read at a different site that these are not pottery tools and solicit a certain type of engagement with the clay that is not really warranted. Children should use their hands and tools that are designed to assist the children rather than determine a shape which is what a cookie cutter does.

Another excellent quote from the above referenced articles:

"I encorage them that it is okay to pinch it, poke it, pound it, and so on. Since some children have learned to avoid getting messy, I show them how easy clay wipes off my fingers with a moist cloth or sponge. Sometimes they will just practice wiping the clay off their fingers at first. This is fine. It is learning."

First, I described what each of the materials were for. The small bowl is for putting the piece of clay to be used in. The sponge is to be used for the cleaning of the mat. Etc. I pointed out the handwashing materials in the class as an alternative to using a sponge to wipe off the clay from their fingers. I may change this depending on what my observations tell me.

I also took a few minutes to talk about the closable baggies in which the clay is kept within the large containers. I showed them (I have shown them before with other materials but felt I wanted to repeat it for them again) that closing the baggie required pressing the two sides together at the top and sealing the "seam" to close the baggie. I then define the word "seam." I showed a seam on my shirt sleeve to them and then asked them to locate a seam on their clothing. They seemed fascinated by this. I told them that a seam holds two pieces together and even suggested that they think of addition - two small pieces joined together to make a larger one.

Next, I pulled a piece of clay from the smaller of the two pots holding clay. I sealed the baggie and put the lid on the container. Next, I simple kneaded the clay and then started to make a bird's nest which I eventually made eggs for.

I wet the sponge and demonstrated how to use the sponge to smooth edges and seams. I also showed how to use several of the tools to assist in shaping the clay and in making patterns / designs.

I hesitated making a specific item as I did not want to see twenty birds nests set out to dry later in the day. So, when my creation was complete I said that it was wonderful working with the clay and making something but that I felt I was done with the work and did not need to keep it. I then squeezed the clay in my hand taking away any shape resembling a nest and then returned it to the rest of the clay in the baggie.

Next, I showed them how to clean up which include returning the clay to the baggie (done), sponging down the mat, wiping it dry with the cloth and returning everything to its place. I added a few pieces of cut mat for the children to rest their finished art on so as to allow the work to air dry.

Here is a final quote from the Bartel article:

"Other than making sure that they do not eat it or throw it, I simply watch to see what they do with it. Good adult supervision consists of observing and encouraging self-initiated experiments that correspond to resonable limits of play."

It was a matter of moments before a child was using the materials. I caught myself after I asked what it was that he was making. Fortunately, he answered simply, "Just art Miss Dyer. Just art."


Anonymous said...

"Just art Miss Dyer. Just art."

I love it! :-D

P.S. Montessori said...

What kind of clay do you use? I ordered a clay from the standard DCPS catalog, SchoolSmart that doesn't dry out. On one hand, it's great because I dont' have to replace it or bag it up, but on the other hand it can be really hard to warm up. I have diveted rollers that I gradually put out, and, amazingly, the children explore with the rollers but also continue to make small objects with their hands. My favorite was when someone made "train tacks" with the roller and then a separate train on top.

I've actually borrowed your "making play-doh" and tried it on my practical life shelf (actually it made its debut today), and I was hoping that the children could make the play-doh, place it in a tin and then eventually transfer that tin to my clay tray. I'm not sure if the logisitics of this will actually work. I'll let you know if I try. Actually, I'll probably post about it tomorrow since I forgot to take pictures today!

Anyway, what kind of clay do you think is best?