Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pre-School Clay Project Results

completed nameplates from pre-school class

Today was the clay project with my daughter's pre-school class. I think it went pretty well. All the kids made name plates, which was more than my minimal goal for the day (make something) and you can read almost all the names--even the one you can't read has a legible name buried under the extravagant decoration.

I got there a few minutes early and started setting up the table. I had brought what felt like a lot of things: paper for them to work on, brushes, slip cups, tools and stamps, pre-made letters, a box of letter stamps and two balls of clay for each kid.  While I was setting these interesting new things out on the table, the class came in from outside playtime and had a difficult time staying in formation as they were told to wash their hands and sit down for circle time. Can you blame them? 

Once they were all washed and sitting "criss cross applesauce," I sat with them in the circle and told them about clay. I asked if they'd used play-doh before and told them that, like play-doh, clay can be squishy.  Then I told them it can be kind of hard like my pre-made slabs (I think the cardboard I put under each one absorbed more water out of each slab than I'd anticipated) or even very hard and strong after firing; I showed them that I couldn't push a stamp or another tool into a piece of fired clay.

Then I told them that you can stick clay to clay with just pressure. I had my daughter help by telling them what you need to do to stick clay together. "Scratch and add water!" and got them to repeat it before I let them go over to the table. 

At the table I showed them the tools they could use and the water cups and brushes and the pre-made coil letters or letter stamps they could use to write their names. I was surprised by how patient the kids were. They waited while I told them and even a moment or two after I was done. I think their teacher has trained them not to start before her "okay."

It was fun to watch the kids work. There were nine there today and two adult helpers besides myself and the teacher. One is a part-time teacher or volunteer (not sure which) and and the other is the father of one of the kids. The kids obviously enjoyed the project, some more so than others. One boy wasn't feeling well and another finished quickly and seemed to be wondering what he was supposed to do next, while some others added layers of stamps and squished clay until told to stop.

One boy, with help from the assistant teacher wrote his name using stamps then proceeded to completely cover over his name with coil letters when she had moved on. Though I know the older kids know how to spell their names, it was interesting to see that almost all of them needed some help with order or which end to start from. Carter and James both started with the C and J at the right side of their plate but oriented so that when the plate was turned around, the letters faced the correct direction.

Alison started to spell her name SA and Jonathan had a W as his second letter. Joshua at one point had written HSAJ.  It seemed sometimes like the kids just liked the shape of certain of the coil letters. This was certainly true with this name plate: 

Derek's name is stamped in underneath all the other letters

An interesting phenomena could be observed if you were just watching the name plates from the start of the project to the end. As the teacher came around the table, helping one kid after another, the extra letters magically disappeared and the order somehow rearranged itself so that even long names were correctly ordered by the time she swept past. Interestingly, the teacher didn't appear to take over the project, just to whisper hints in the kids ears until JWNAOTN was remade into JONATHAN and CTR expanded into CARTER.

After the letters seemed under control, I brought out a few jars of underglaze. I asked the teacher first because depending on one's tolerance, there was already quite a lot going on at the table, but she seemed comfortable with a bit more. I opened two jars on each end of the table and asked the kids not to switch the brushes (to avoid muddy jars of identically mixed color). Eventually some of the kids asked to use the colors on the other end of the table. The girls were not seated together, but they clearly preferred purple and pink to black.

 The underglaze in Molly's flowers is very thick. It should be interesting to see after firing

Riley used all of the types of tools: stamps, cookie cutters, even a flower arranging "frog" to make little holes

Alison shaped her own A but had already attached the pre-made letter

You can tell by the color contrasting letters that these boys painted the raised surfaces and then were done with the project. They were the first to leave the table.

 I think Gabriel shaped some of his own letters

James has stamped-in letter underneath the coil letters

The boys seemed to prefer black. 

Carter shaped his own "C" out of a coil of clay

Jonathan seemed very excited that his mom would like his project

The ones who stayed at the table longer used more underglaze and kept adding things to the surface after they'd used color. Riley, Alison and Joshua had to remove a bit of clay once their pieces got so thick I was was worried they would explode in the kiln. I had thought I could get away with not telling them that "rule" about clay.

 Joshua collected most of the letters in his name without teacher help and really liked pushing tools into the wet clay

It was interesting to see how the kids focused on different aspects of the project. Some liked pushing things into clay and testing what shapes each tool would make. Others liked adding clay or letter shapes to the clay. Some spent time shaping the ball of wet clay apart from the name plate decorations and others got into using the underglaze. I'm not sure a similar project with adults is all that different. Some work exactly as directed, others get focused on trying all options or looking for new approaches.

I think my basic plan for the day worked as planned. The best last-minute thing I did to prepare for this project was to make the coiled letters so kids could just grab the ones they need. Some of the kids could have made their own letters but I'm not sure if all of them could. I didn't anticipate them being used as decorations themselves, however.

I did bring extra slabs of clay that I never ended up using, which made the inclusion of the cookie cutters a little odd. As it turned out I wasn't sure there was sufficient room on the table. If this were a regular project the kids could have used them. They were obviously skilled and well behaved enough to handle more variety and more methods.

I now plan to fire the dried name plates and spray or paint a clear glaze over the top. I drilled holes (or enlarged the kids' holes) in the nameplates before I laid them out in the studio to dry so that after firing they can be hung with ribbon or string.

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