Sunday, February 17, 2013

Elementary Clay Outreach

It has been my goal with this blog to try to write twice a week or, at the very least, once a week. Usually I don't have any trouble keeping up. Lately, however, I have found it hard to keep myself motivated. I suppose I can figure it out, I've had a major schedule shift for my daily workout and am teaching a different set of classes this quarter. This quarter I am also supposed to be writing my self-assessment for work but I am finding the task to be harder than it should be.

Sometimes I reach a point where I realize that just doing the work will make me feel better, but I still don't want to do it. I don't spend a lot of time in front of the TV or on the computer, but I still manage to find ways to avoid if I want to. And avoiding what should get done makes me feel that much worse for not doing it.

As for writing in the blog, I have been feeling like the most important issues rattling around in my brain right now are verboten. I spend oodles of time thinking about some issues that have to do with the classes I am currently teaching but most of the issues seem to be a little too sensitive to discuss openly and I because I haven't been writing about the issues, I haven't figured out if there is something I can say publicly about them. In writing the first three paragraphs here, I am aware that I am creating a most audience un-friendly post. However, I am also aware that one of the reasons I set myself this twice a week goal for writing the blog was because of the benefits that come from writing the blog, namely, the opportunity to think deeply and personally about the issues that are rattling around in my brain. I will now proceed to use more pictures and write about something that does invite an outside audience in.

2nd Grade Clay
I do have a couple of things coming up that I am at liberty to discuss. One is that I have agreed to teach a clay lesson to some second graders at Apple Valley Elementary in West Valley. The YVCC art department was contacted by an Apple Valley PTA mom about presenting some art lessons to their students because the students don't have art classes. I repeat, the students don't have ANY art class. The horror!

So, as I am trying to get my head around the idea that there are elementary schools where the students DON'T HAVE ANY ART CLASSES, I am also trying to remember how to teach clay to second graders. When I lived in Cedar Rapids, I taught art classes for the City Parks and Recreation Department. I taught all K-12 grade levels and kids as young as preschool and some adult classes. The classes were small, we had basically no budget and I was pretty much on my own for setting up classes and teaching them. It was a good experience, but it was also 10 years ago.

I couldn't find the real logo version of this so I made my own with my daughter's stickers

For the past two years I have done a clay lesson for my daughter's pre-school class. Second graders have more dexterity and more ability to anticipate the end result, but I'm not sure they are that fundamentally different from pre-schoolers in wanting to play with clay. For that matter, adults taking a one-day clay lesson usually just want to play with clay. With clay, I think a flexible but not too difficult project can work well for very young kids and older students all the way up to adults. I think teenagers are probably the hardest group to please. They tend to be least forgiving and most likely to label the project as stupid or uncool.

preschool bells waiting to be fired

The biggest challenge for this lesson will be that the group includes 70 students. That's right, I am going to teach one clay lesson for 45 minutes to seventy students. What could go wrong? I expect that there will be some adults, but it's hard to guess how many. It is also hard to know how the kids will behave.

I was originally thinking of doing the the bell project I did this summer with the preschool class. I've done the basic project with older kids in Cedar Rapids as well. The bell or rattle sculpture emphasizes the neat qualities of clay, namely, it gets hard when you fire it and can thus make a noise. Kids can simply make a bell with random surface decoration like the pre-schoolers did or they can make figurative bells like my older kids did. The most patient or skillful students can do more surface decoration than average but all the kids will end up with a noisemaker once the pieces are fired.

dog bell made by a little boy in Cedar Rapids who is probably now in college

This bell project consists of a flat base and a coiled, thrown, wrapped slab or pinched body. The trick is to put in a dry rattle before closing the top. With the pre-schoolers I threw a dozen top pieces and had the kids attach the bases, insert the rattles and close the tops. With older kids in Cedar Rapids, it looks like I had them wrap slabs around probably a toilet paper roll support or possibly they free-formed the base with a slab.

bride bell made by a little girl in Cedar Rapids who could conceivably be a bride now herself

The huge group of second graders won't be able to work with slabs, since we won't have access to a slab roller. I certainly am not going to throw 60+ top pieces like I did with the ten preschoolers. I will have to decide whether I want the kids to try to coil-build a rattle, create a pinch pot rattle or scrap the rattle/bell idea all together. I could have the kids make pineapple pots. Pineapple pots are basically press-molded bowls. The kids push balls of clay securely into one another inside a styrofoam or paper bowl. As the clay dries it shrinks and pops out of the bowl. I did this with adults at YVCC for an Empty Bowls fundraiser several years ago, but it doesn't work well if the balls of clay aren't pressed together well.

In looking online, I found this guy making simple clay rattles that are too quick and maybe too small, but could be combined with my bell forms to create slab-free bell/rattles. The most important things to keep in mind as I prepare are that the kids will like playing with clay and should be allowed freedom to squish and stick things into the clay and to scratch and scrape the surface of the clay. If this can be achieved while also creating more than a solid lump of clay, the parents will also be happy. The kids will probably be happy with a lump.

I will probably make a bunch of copies of step-by-step visual instructions for the process. Having taught a lesson at Davis High School in Yakima, I now know not to expect that the classroom will be quiet enough that all the students can hear me speak. I also will want a convenient way to help the adult helpers help the kids.

1 comment:

  1. I am so thrilled to see someone else shares my horror in the fact that kids dont have any exposure to art during their elementary years,unless of course the teacher can work it into a lesson of math or reading, at their own expense of course. I, too, cannot fathom going through life without some sort of creative expression to help me escape. Although I haven't had any formal training in the arts, I was blessed with a grandmother that got me started crafting at the young age of five by teaching me a simple crocheted chain. Time went on and my love for crafting has led me up and down many trying adventureuos roads of various types of crafting. I have always loved the feel of working with clay and have taken up making dioramas with various objects, left over scraps, bits and pieces of previous projects and of course, clay. I have tried to find somewhere that I could go and spend a few hours a week to work on things and to be able to be around other artists. Do you know of such a place that may exist here in Yakima? I wish there was someplace similar to a workshop created in my hometwon, Tacoma, where it was kid friendly that used recycled, upcycled supplies.


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