Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Second Grade Clay

Last week I did a clay project with a group of second graders at a local elementary school. There were roughly 70 kids at nine tables. We were in a gym and unfortunately the acoustics of the room were not ideal for speaking over a multitude of kids. I had not requested a microphone. Before I got there, I wouldn't have considered that I needed one. Seventy is a lot of kids and though they were focused and well behaved, it was hard for them to be very quiet once they had started working and it was hard for me to speak loudly enough for them to hear me.

an airplane, some turtles and some other finished bells

The project was arranged by the school PTA and I was impressed by how well they coordinated everything. I emailed back and forth with my contact person maybe 30 times before the event. She was very clear about what they expected and why they were doing the project. The school doesn't have any art classes, which I find shocking, so the PTA has undertaken to encourage artists and educators from the community to do one-day projects with the kids to enrich their education. I am hopeful that McCleary decision may change this unfortunate situation in the coming years.

a kitty bell

In the meantime, I believe the PTA is still looking for artists to teach short lessons with the kids in a variety of media. I'd be happy to put local artists in touch with them. I found that the woman who contacted me was very thorough and easy to work with. She asked what we needed and got it all ahead of time so that all I brought to the school were a few example pieces. some clay stamps and a printed sheets of illustrated directions for the project. The teachers also had a handy clapping thing they did to get the students attention and turn down the volume in the gym.

The step-by-step directions I had on each table
The project seemed to go well, despite how difficult it was for the kids to hear. There were quite a few PTA parents and some teachers there to help. I'm guessing some of them had some clay experience, because some of the tables did their pinch pots before I got around to giving those directions. I also brought with me a couple of students from YVCC to help with the project. They worked with different tables helping kids do the project and making sure the kids had enough clay and attached their pieces well.

The flower/princess on the right has interesting eyes

The kids behaved very well and didn't seem to have much trouble making their bells. A few kids had pinch pots larger than their bases, but they were able to add more clay to make the base larger. A few kids squished their bells at some point during the process, but they seemed to have fun anyway and I think their bells should be able to be fired, even if they won't make much noise.

The most interesting thing by far was to see how the kids decorated their work. There seemed to be trends by table, so that one table had several turtles, another had several seahorses. One table had a bunch of very well crafted princesses and butterflies. The sea life table was impressive for how different their designs were from my examples. There were at least two seahorses and one arrangement of a seashell and other ocean stuff on top.

a seahorse

Another table that made me laugh was the one where several kids made turtles, like my example, but added top hats to the turtles' heads. A few kids added legs underneath their bell shapes. I didn't notice the legs until I picked up the pieces at the end of the day, but they were a neat effect. My turtle example's legs were stuck out to the side.

sea creatures, large turtles and a variety of patterns and textures on the tops

There was an energetic group of boys at the front table. Right after I was introduced and before I could give more directions than "pick up some clay" one of the boys already had a question for me. It turned out to be a good question (he was asking if they got to keep the stuff they made) but I was afraid it would set the tone for the whole day. Their table did end up requesting a lot of help but they also stayed on task and finished their work.

a princess/lady in amongst a variety of other bells

Unfortunately I didn't get particularly good pictures of the kids' work. I didn't take any during the event because I was so busy. One of the teachers did, but I don't know if I have permission to share the images that have the kids in them. I did take some pictures at the end of the event, after I went around and checked all the pieces to make sure they wouldn't explode in the kiln and to make sure they wouldn't fall apart when moved. Apparently I was tired, because the pictures aren't very clear.

a couple princess, something that now looks like a cat, and at least one turtle

I am hoping to get new pictures after the work comes out of the kiln. The work is being fired by a local high school art teacher, but it needs to dry, some of it quite a lot, before being fired. A few kids seemed to believe that taking a huge solid chunk of clay and sticking it on top of their hollow clay would be good. Usually I give students three rules for clay: 1) always score and slip to attach clay to clay, 2) always have an air escape for any air pockets and 3) never make any part of the clay thicker than your thumb. We didn't get around to the third rule for these kids.

a turtle with a top hat

There will be an art show open house at the school at the end of March. I am planning to go. It should be interesting to see what else the kids have been doing. I don't know if the kids will have their finished work by then, but I believe the PTA plans to have them paint the bells when they come out of the kiln.

the seashell still life, but this picture doesn't do it justice

Thanks to Anne Rojan and the Apple Valley PTA and teachers, Debbie Sundlee, Mike Hiler and Grace Keller for your help on this project. And thanks to the kids for making it fun.

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