We placed a big table cloth on the floor for children to explore clay using their feet, knees, elbows and hands. As we stood back and watched the children examine the clay, we could tell they were hesitant to jump right in. We discussed the importance of getting to know clay with our bodies before creating something with it, so they would have more of an understanding of how clay feels, moves and moulds.
After a few minutes Tyson leaped in and started exploring with his feet by jumping and stomping on the clay bricks, “I’m trying to make it flat!” Francesca followed Tyson’s lead by using her feet and then dropping to her knees to try to flatten it, “It’s starting to get warmer and flatter the more I leave my knees on it!”
Stomp. Jump. Squish. Splat. Soon all the children jumped in. It’s not very often the children get to take off their socks and explore with their feet and toes. They stomped their feet, squished their toes and dug their heels deep into the clay.
In spite of being cautious at the beginning, the children all engaged with the clay, exploring how it moved and moulded as they manipulated it in various ways. They made an immediate connection; the warmer the clay got the more they could see their hand and foot prints in the clay.
Realizing the children were completely engaged with exploring the physical elements of clay, we proceeded to the next stage, offering tiles with water and sponges to explore how other influences allow us to further manipulate clay.
The children were so excited and instantly started to roll the clay around and add water to help it soften. Some placed too much water on their clay and had a harder time trying to shape it. They solved that problem by soaking some of the water up with their sponge, making the connection they shouldn’t use any more water. It was great to witness the independent observations and discoveries the children were making the more they played with the clay.
“I need to use my muscles a lot to move it around!” – Ava
“It’s so easy to bend and move when you add just a bit of water.” – Jensen
After we explored clay with our bodies and hands we proceeded to the next stage, challenging the children to create something they could paint and take home. Increasing the complexity required the children to think deeper and tap into their self-expression, planning, perseverance and problem solving skills. It also fostered introductory skills in geometry and physics. How high can I build my tree structure before it tips over? How big does the base need to be to balance it? If the branch is too thick it will not stay attached. If the branch is too thin, it might break off. If the clay is too thick, it takes much longer to dry.
We again offered clay, tiles, and water, and introduced sculpting tools. From observing the children we could tell that some instantly knew what they were going to create, while others worked with the clay while deciding. It was great to capture the children’s wonderings and thoughts through their creations, such as the CN Tower, a hockey stick and puck, and an igloo to name a few.
“I am making a mushroom.” – Laticia
“I am making a bowl and when it is done and painted, I am going to take it home to eat breakfast with.” – Lola
It is interesting to note that some of our School Age program educators found at the beginning of the school year many of the children were not engaging with clay, although it was always readily available in our programs. If children did start exploring with clay, they often walked away after playing with it for a short time.
When we rethought the process and reintroduced clay in various stages the children were able to acquire different skill sets and build their confidence through hands-on experience. As their confidence increased, so did their level of enjoyment. The children gained more of an appreciation for clay as an art medium and it encouraged them to think of the endless possibilities of what is, or could be, created with clay. With this greater appreciation of clay, we found the children were engaged longer; some returned to projects for days or weeks at a time, eager to complete their masterpieces.
Physically working with clay not only has therapeutic and calming benefits, it helps children enhance their fine motor skills and dexterity. More importantly, clay sparks children’s imagination; it allows them to share their creativity through 3-dimentional forms, while enhancing their problem solving skills.
From a very early age children are ready to create, and clay is a wonderful tool to offer them.
Ashley Brown RECE, Compass ELC School Age Program – St. Anne Elementary School, Peterborough
Stephanie Weare OCT, Compass ELC School Age Program – St. Teresa Elementary School, Peterborough
Sam Novak-Soltermann, Compass ELC School Age Program, Prince of Wales Public School, Peterborough
To read previously posted Compass ELC Blogs, please click HERE