Bring on the Clay!


One of the things that struck me about my visit to the schools in Reggio Emilia, was that no matter the age of the child, there was clay available every day.  Clay is a natural material. There are no harsh chemicals. There are no artificial dyes.  But this art medium can be intimidating if you have never explored it before.

You can purchase clay from your local craft store.  I buy the air-dry clay.  I have bought the white, gray, and terra cotta colors.  I do have to say that the terra cotta clay is messier on clothes :(
This type of clay does not need a kiln.  I have not had great luck at preserving large pieces of work that children have created.  They often become brittle when they dry.

Key Things to Know to Get Started

1. Clay needs to remain moist to stay pliable.

You should store your clay in a plastic bag with a wet paper towel to ensure that it does not dry out.  Do not store in a very dry, warm area.

2. It may be easier to make creations on a piece of wax paper or even white paper. This will allow the child to move the clay from one play to another to dry.  If you make it right on the table, it will get stuck.

3. You can cut slices of clay using a string.  These slices are called slabs.  Slabs are great first way for children to encounter clay.  They can stick things into the clay.  Carve pictures using tools. 

4. You can "glue" one piece of clay to another piece of clay by wetting the clay.  This is called slip.

Suggestions For Introducing Clay to Children

Many children have only had experience with home-made or commercial play dough.  Clay takes more hand strength to manipulate.  It can also feel a little bit messier depending on how new your clay is.  

I definitely suggest setting out slabs of clay with materials to press into the clay.
You can use: popsicle sticks, sea shells, pasta, rocks, birthday candles, etc.

For the next encounter, set out slabs, balls, and coils (when you roll the clay to make a snake).  See what the children make!

As children become more and more familiar with clay, they will begin to use it as another way of expressing thoughts and testing ideas.  Some children may prefer to draw, while others prefer to construct using clay. 

You can even begin to offer clay as an extension to drawing.  See the self portraits play invitation!

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