Friday, 22 February 2013

All kids love Clay!

There is something about the lovely texture of clay that fascinates kids (and adults alike).  I've already had a few requests for clay so it was easy to decide that this weeks theme is ..... CLAY. 

Whenever I have children over during the holidays or on weekends they always want to play with clay in the studio.  Interestingly it's been found that few mediums can kindle creativity and skills in children like clay does. Something magical happens when children work with clay, it seems to have a therapeutic quality that relaxes them and holds their attention for hours.  "Working with clay is good for sensory development, motor skills, self esteem, and self expression, problem solving skills, discipline, and pride" says Patty Storms in her article The Importance of Clay and Pottery in Child Development. If that's not incentive enough to expose your children to clay I don't know what is!

People often steer away from clay work as its messy and yes it is yet its easy to clean up.  You don't need to have a kiln.  These days there is plenty of air drying (or paper clay) around.  I don't have a kiln so I decided to expose the children to two types of clay during the lesson. We used earthenware white clay for our pots and paper clay for our sculptures.  Using paper clay for the sculptures allowed the children to make something quickly which they can paint and take home next lesson. By using earthenware clay for our pots I can teach them about the firing process and glazes.  

First we discussed what clay is, where it comes from, what colours it comes in and the process of firing clay and glazing it.  I showed them a few pieces of pottery that my children and myself had made.  Each child was then given a small piece of clay to begin with.  I encouraged them to play with it a bit and get a feel for the clay.  I asked what does it feel like, does it retain its shape when you push it? What happens when you add water?  Can you smooth it? Can you flatten it? How would you add pieces to it? Can you break it into bits? Can you roll it into a ball? How would you make it into a sausage (coil)?

I then gave each of them a piece of clay and showed them how to make it into a ball.  I demonstrated how to make a pinch pot by sticking their thumb into the middle and pinching it (I liken this to using your thumb and finger like a crabs claw and pitching this way).  When they had finished their pinch pot they decorated it with various buttons, stamps and tools.  Below are a couple of our unfired pieces.  Pretty impressive considering some of the children had never worked with clay before!

Thursday Pinch Pots.  I love the one with the curved edges and some have lovely detail on them.

Tuesday Pinch Pots.  Two of these were made by 5yo boys!

The children were then given a piece of paper clay and I told them they could make whatever they wanted.  I did show them how to make a coil shape for an easy snake and how to flatten the clay with their hands if they wanted a flat shape. Some were inspired to go into the garden to get leaves to imprint into their clay. We ended up with a few interesting sculptures including a microphone, hotdog and lots of mushrooms (inspiration from my pottery mushrooms in our garden).  Below are some of the pieces before painting.

Snake and Bird in a Nest

Leaf Print

There is nothing better than witnessing the smile on a child's face as they experience the sensation of sitting at a potters wheel for the first time.  I find the children absolutely love the feel of the slippery wet clay spinning beneath their hands.  They are facinated by the clay and water spraying everywhere and lets face it children just love mess!  I offer all children (our youngest are 5) a go on the wheel.  I tell them it's all about the process rather than the finished piece and it doesn't matter if they don't make a pot.  I just want them to enjoy the feel of the clay beneath their hands and experiment with pressure and hand position.
A childs pot on the wheel

That's it for this week.  I will post some pictures of our painted and glazed pieces once they are finished.

The artist of the week is Wassily Kandinsky.  He was choosen as his artwork is very colourful and abstract which I believed would appeal to the children.  I also want to introduce painting to music and Kandinsky is known for this.

Cheerio Fee


  1. Do you make your own paper clay? If so, what is your recipe? I've found paper clay that is intended to be fired, and others that is air dried. I teach after school art classes, and we do clay at least once each term. The kids love it, but my kiln access is limited (I use a friends's kiln that is literally on it's last legs!!) and I am approaching the stage where I may need to go air dried - so I'm searching for alternatives!! Would love more detail :) Elizabeth

    1. Hi Elizabeth. I buy my paper clay from a clay supply shop (Clayworks in Melbourne). They make it up there. Its much cheaper than the air dry clay from the art shops (I pay $15 for a big block of it). I have been experimenting with other air dry clays yet I'm not that keen on the texture of most. I really like the real clay feel. I also have limited access to a kiln (I transport it all to a friends) so paper clay is a great alternative. We must keep in contact and share ideas. Cheers Fiona