Earlier this summer I did some projects with my daughter in the clay studio. In the summer the studio is set up for use and I have more energy at 5pm than during the year. The studio is also a nice place to be on a sunny summer afternoon. Add some kids music on the newly repaired CD player and we're ready to go.
We tried several projects, some a bit too hard for her, others just about right with some strategic help from Mom. She tried throwing on the wheel but at this age it is really just squishing clay on the wheel. she likes it but it wears me out watching her.
Making a pineapple pot in a plastic-lined sand castle toy was just a bit too hard for her. I made the mistake of having very wet slip that day. She liked painting it on the clay and eventually I had to take the slip away because the pineapple pot was quickly turning into pineapple mush. I ended up sneaking in the supporting corner pieces under the guise of making her check each side. This project required a bit too much dexterity and power in her fingertips. After the pot dried a bit she was happy to decorate it with scratching tools and slab cutouts and stamps.
sand castle pineapple pot
A project that went surprisingly well was making a slab cylinder over a toilet paper tube. I've used this basic method with college students and with older kids. A few years ago I had an adult student make a beautiful "functional" sculpture out of many different sized clay tubes, all made using this same method.
My daughter liked rolling the paper around the tube and then rolling the clay around the paper. I rolled out the slab but she was able to handle it and even score and slip it together. The toilet paper tube inside the clay meant she could press on the sides for decoration (without collapsing the clay) and later she was able to trace around the clay tube and cut out the circular slabs to make the base and top.
The project I plan to do with her class is a little more simple. I don't want the kids to be frustrated waiting for me (or their teacher) to help and I don't know if all the kids are at the same level as my daughter. We are going to make decorative name plates. I will bring in a small slab for each kid on a piece of cardboard (so it doesn't bend) and they will be able to attach clay letters to spell their names and decorate the slabs.
I plan to sit with the kids first at circle time and talk to them about what clay is and how we attach clay pieces together. My daughter already can tell me that you need to scratch the clay and add water when to stick pieces together. The way she can repeat this mantra gives me hope that the rest of the class will catch on quickly. If not, I can remind them and at the very worst, I can attach the pieces at home or we can glue them on after firing.
At the table each kid will have a slab of clay to decorate and a ball of clay to pull apart. They will share (thick) slip, scratching tools, stamps and larger shaped cookie cutters. I was originally going to bring in slabs of clay for each kid to cut with letter-shaped cookie cutters. However, after a trial run I realized that some of the letters don't come out of the cookie cutters. Cs and Ls and Es are fine but As and Rs come apart or just stay stuck. I plan to prepare some letters ahead of time (either with the cookie cutters or with coils) so they can choose them instead.
prototype name plate
If things go well I can show the kids how to make coil letters or they can use cookie cutters and extra pre-rolled slabs to cut out thick letters. If the kids are struggling they can pick from pre-cut or pre-rolled letters. If things are disastrous, we can scrap the whole name thing and they can just decorate slabs of clay. I suspect the kids will still enjoy this.
I haven't entirely decided whether to add color. I plan to bring grey and red clays. I am considering bringing a few colors of underglaze, too. I know that some pre-schoolers aim for brown in all their color mixing endeavors. I'm not sure the parents would appreciate muddy blobs of color lovingly made by kids who want to display them in the house. Limiting the available colors might help tone down the mess and give them something that looks good in the end.
I will take the work home to fire and return it to the kids afterwards. I also like the idea of spraying each piece with a glossy overglaze so the kids have shiny pieces to display. I plan to cut holes in the slabs so they can be hung with a ribbon or string.
I also hope I will have a chance to take pictures of what they kids are doing. It might be too chaotic for me to take many but perhaps someone else will help or I might even have a chance to set up the video camera--though that might not be legal in a pre-school. At least I'll be able to photograph the end results.
I do plan to be as organized as possible going in. The kids will have a good time regardless, but it will be easier for them to successfully put their name on if they I have my stuff in order.