Clay

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The school age children have a small list of favorite materials they gravitate toward and utilize for their creative work. The children love to use paper, cardboard, paint, glue, recycled materials, tape, and clay. On occasion the children will incorporate other materials into their work, but the above materials are the foundation for a majority of their creative expression. One material the children utilize most often is clay. 

Wikipedia says clay is a compound made up of minerals that have been formed together by the weathering of rocks. Clay is plentiful in much of the world and has been utilized throughout history to create items that helped the human species grow and thrive. There is much scientific information on the web about the different types of clay available, their purity, and composition.

In our program, the children often utilize materials that are easily created and have clay like structure such as Playdough, scented dough, and flour dough. The children also employ two types of natural clay in shades of brown and grey. In addition, they use polymer-based clays like Fimo and Sculpy, plus an oil and wax based clay called Plastilina.

While researching natural clay, I discovered that the plastic quality of clay is based on the water content of the material. This makes sense as we often add water to our clay to keep it moist or to rejuvenate it after drying occurs.

Thinking about the children’s use of clay a few questions came to mind. 

What are the qualities that make a clay project memorable? How does clay create meaning for children and a desire to repeatedly employ the material in their work? 

Open Ended Material –Like all great materials clay is open ended. What begins as a blob, rectangle, or ball ends up in the hands of the creator becoming an investigation into time, pressure, and perseverance that yields an original work of thought and purpose.

Whole Body Experience – Clay offers the builder an opportunity to develop small and large motor function and satisfies the need to work these functions of the body in harmony. Children develop motor function and strength at a different pace and rate. Working with clay helps strengthen areas of the body under development and tone areas where development is more advanced.  

Great Transition Material – In school age care some children do not visit the creative space of the classroom often. Does this mean these children are not creative? Of course not, they are creative, but they choose to express their creativity using non-traditional mediums. Clay is the one material that is a universal favorite with all children and draws in those who usually choose to do something else instead of engaging in the arts.

Engages All of the Senses – Clay is a very sensorial material. It invites direct contact with the user and responds to environmental conditions very well. Clay becomes a different sensorial experience when it is wet, dry, warm, and cold. Clay responds to human touch with great malleability and invites the user to explore the possibilities contained within. 

Shapes of Exploration – Clay can be shaped and molded into an infinite number of designs. Clay invites children to work in three dimensions and to explore what it can become. Clay is a great tool for exploration because it can be changed easily and never becomes permanent until the user decides the investigation is over. 

These are a few of the attributes clay offers children in our program. The versatility of the material makes clay adaptable to most program needs. Clay is a material filled with possibilities and potential. How is clay utilized in your program? How has clay benefited the children in your learning community?