The other week I went with some of my students to a local elementary school to do a clay project with a kindergarten class. The kids don't have art in their school, at least not at the kinder level. Earlier in the week the kids had apparently discussed what clay is, comparing it to Play-Doh, but most of them still hadn't experienced clay first hand before our visit.
|Kinder class clay projects before firing. In most one can see an egg on a leaf, then a caterpillar, a chrysalis, then a butterfly. shapes, lengths, and orientation vary.|
I started the lesson by handing them clay and having them squish it, flatten it, and shape it into a long coil to get a feel for it. I asked them to describe the clay (wet, cold, squishy). I was surprised when several of them suggested "hard" as a descriptor. Since I think of wet clay's primary characteristic as plasticity or workability, "hard" seemed counter-intuitive. However, when compared to Gak or Play-Doh or silly putty, I suppose clay is hard.
Officially, the project was to have the kids create a life cycle of a butterfly. However, my philosophy with regard to kids, especially, is that the most important thing for them is to get a sense of clay's characteristics by squishing it, stamping into it, shaping it and attaching pieces together. I also think it is valuable for them to understand that wet squishy clay becomes hard immovable ceramic because it is fired in a kiln. If they don't quite get the firing and the kiln part, at least they see that their clay has changed when the teacher took it away for a few days.
|I arranged the slabs randomly in the box to transport them, but I like this set because of the juxtaposition of the minimal with the overloaded and highly textured surface. I also think the butterfly with antennae on top is pretty neat.|
Before we got around to adding the leaf and egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly, I gave the kids some time to push stamps and rollers into the clay. Some of them also decided to add clay elements they created themselves. The amazing thing about kids this age is that most of them don't really care about following specific instructions or making it look "correct"--they just figure it out. And that's great. Sometimes I have trouble getting my adult students to take those sorts of risks, rather than following a prescribed pattern.
|This kid was intent on making a person mowing the lawn, complete with house and path. I think she stuck on the butterfly life-cycle just to show she followed the directions. This kid needs to have more access to clay.|
After they kids had some experimentation time with the clay, and before they could destroy the form of the slabs, we talked about the life cycle of the butterfly and I asked them to make suggestions for how we might make the different shapes. They've been studying butterflies and caterpillars in class, so they were all excited to tell us about them and to show us the little live caterpillars they had in the classroom. They were also more than capable of figuring out how to squish clay flat and cut or shape it into a leaf. We talked about "scoring and slipping" to attach one piece of clay to another and they all followed this instruction. Later I and my students checked to make sure the pieces were secure and we didn't really have to fix any pieces.
|After tracing and cutting out the butterfly, this kid used a sort of shell tool (used for decorating cakes, actually) to add this surface decoration.|
|After they were finished adding the butterfly, the kids were encouraged to add their initials or names, some just played with the letters, some put the letters on the back. I think some put on letters and then piled on more clay.|
After the work was fired, I brought it back to the elementary school so that the kids can paint it and take it home.