At the beginning of August I visited my daughter's pre-shool class to do a clay project with the kids. The project was to make and decorate a bell. The kids in the class range in age from about 3 to 5 years old. Half the kids were in the class last year when we did a different clay project. During this year's project I noticed that the kids who did the project last year had a higher level of comfort with the clay and were better able to follow the directions. Of course these are also mostly the older kids.
I prepped this project by throwing some hollow shapes on the wheel. I originally tried the project at home with my daughter and discovered that open-topped forms would work better for the younger kids than closed forms. It is easier for the kids to put in the little noise-making bits of clay from the top than to fill in the space before attaching the base.
|thrown test forms for pre-school bell project|
During the project each kid picked a clay form and also got a slab of flat clay for the base and a ball of soft clay for the top and for decoration. The thrown form and the slab were both leather-hard so they would keep their shape when the kids handled them. I also prepared some tiny balls or bits of clay to put inside. Once the clay dried, the little bits would rattle around and make noise.
The first thing I had the kids do was score the bottom edge of the thrown form and the top of the slab. Scoring means scratching the clay where it will attach to another piece of clay. I provided some scoring tools (like tiny forks) as well as knives for this task. With older kids or adults I would have them measure the bottom slab first and score only the edge where the top clay form would actually touch. Given that this was a one-time project, I just told the kids to score the slab generally. My daughter, of course, measured and scored just the edge because she's done this before. In general the older kids scored a solid circle or hollow ring on the top of the slab. The youngest kids scratched fewer random marks on the slab or cut the slab.
|kids scoring slab and bottom of thrown form|
|scoring the slab and bottom of form|
Before we started the project, I explained to the kids that clay needs to be scored and slipped when attaching one part to another. I also explained that slip is wet clay and that scoring means scratching with a scoring tool, knife, fork or whatever is available. Between each step of the process I kept asking the kids to repeat what we needed to do to attach clay pieces together. One of the kids very excitedly pointed to the slip each time I asked this. After they attached the slab to the bell form, I held up one kid's bell and asked all the kids if it looked okay. They said we should cut off the extra clay sticking out around the bottom (which is what I was hoping they'd say).
|kids cutting off excess clay slab after attaching thrown form|
|kids cutting slabs and tearing off cut clay|
|a tray of texture and surface decoration tools|
Once the balls of clay were in the bells, they used a (hopefully) small amount of clay to close the top. I then brought out a tray of various items with which to decorate their bells. The results were quite varied. One boy sliced his bell almost to the point of breaking apart. Another stuck many many small bits of wet clay all over the surface of his bell. The girl below collected all the little balls of clay that were left-over from the noisemakers and stuck them on the top of her bell.
|a bell decorated with lots of noise-maker balls on top|
I didn't give the kids a lot of guidance on using the tools, though I reminded them how to attach clay to clay (score and slip). For function, there was only one more requirement they needed to know before they finished. Some of them fulfilled this requirement on their own. During firing clay shrinks. Air, on the other hand, expands when heated. If a clay piece contains a fully enclosed bubble of air, the clay piece is likely to explode during firing. All the kids needed was to put a tiny hole into the enclosed section of the bell. Some kids punched multiple holes in the bell. Others had to partially cover their holes because they were so big the noise-makers would fall out.
|some plastic tools stuck into the bells at the right|
A few kids understood that that they could use any tools but didn't understand that they were supposed to take the tools out of the clay. At once point I walked to the end of the table and discovered a couple of plastic tool and clay porcupine bells. I laughed and then had to ask the girls to remove the knives and scoring tools before firing or they would have a burnt plastic bell. Another kid on the other end of the table inserted a small plastic disk into a big hole in his bell just before I reached him. I had to cut apart his bell to retrieve the plastic disk.
|punching a hole (or decoration) with a wooden "knife"|
This project had quite a few steps for a big group of very young kids to follow, especially when most of the information was new to them. Last year I explained to the kids about forming clay shapes, attaching wet and drier clay and firing. I also warned them against using clay pieces that were too large because they can explode in the kiln. This year I needed to to tell the kids about attaching wet and drier clay (scoring and slipping), using tools to decorate clay, adding clay inside to make sounds, leaving an air escape hole, and firing. I didn't have time to explain why they couldn't use thick pieces of clay. One girl did add a thick piece of clay on the top, but I was able to fire it very slowly so it didn't explode.
|adding surface decorations and cutting or scratching the bells' surfaces|
|All the bells drying and ready to fire|