Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Clay Play Day with primary grades

In preparation for adding a new studio center, we had clay "workshop" day where the students learned how to manipulate clay, properly use tools, connect parts together, and add texture and details. The 4th and 5th grade classes worked with natural clay and we practiced making pinch pot creatures. The 1st through 3rd grades used non-drying clay with the task of creating a "creature" from an "egg."

I belong to two discussion lists that I highly value. One is found here: and the other here: There great people on both lists and I have received valuable advice and helpful ideas from both lists. On one of the lists (I forget which one) there was a story in the file area. It reminded me of a lesson my college art professor taught. I embellished the story I found on the discussion list which. Basically, mine is a story of two scientists/explorers finding an "egg" from a yet "undiscovered" creature living deep in the Amazon jungle. The two explorers find the egg in a cave while on an expedition in the Amazon. They take the egg home whereupon arrival, it starts to hatch!

Then I say to the kids, "And do you know what it was?" They say "No." I tell them that neither do I but I have an idea. Then each student is given a clay "egg" with the instructions to create a creature that hatched from their egg.

Using the overhead, I demonstrated some techniques I use with a pencil and Popsicle stick as tools. We discussed tool safety, proper use (the pencil is for adding detail, the stick for cutting). One favorite techniques was making the scaly back of their creature by pinching alongside the spine area. The kids really liked this technique. We learned how to connect the legs, add a neck and head, and make a tail. I probably use some unconventional approaches to using the clay but they work. My experience with clay has been that kids don't know how to firmly connect the clay. The arms and legs always fall off. I teach the kids to create an opening using their pencils and insert one end of the leg (arms, neck etc) into the hole and then smooth out the two connected pieces. Here's an example of mine using this technique:

The pinching technique produces results that anyone can achieve. Even my first graders were successful at using the techniques. And those students that "went their own way" had problems attaching the arms and legs.

Here's a few samples from the kid's work:

A gallery of work can be seen here.


  1. Is this clay that you fire or air dry? I worry about making air bubbles with kiln fired clay, so I have kids "pull" the head, legs, etc. rather than add pieces. It is somewhat limiting though. I'd like to hear more about your method if it's kiln-fired.

    Thanks! Great creatures!

  2. This is non hardening clay. But I do use clay that is fired with the older kids. We do have air bubble problems and have had some cracking. But usually this happens if the kids don't knead the clay properly. If the kids score properly and add "slip" to the two ends, they join just fine. We are currently in the painting/glazing stage with 4th and 5th graders. I'll post their work when it's finished. BTW, broken pieces go to the doctors (that's me). I fix them if I'm able and glue back together. Then with a coat or two of Guesso they are ready for the acrylic paints. The cracks still show a little but not to badly.