Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Clay Introduction

Clay: Nature's Playdoh

Teachers have long loved playdoh, but when it comes to clay they seem to hesitate. One reason for this is lack of knowledge with the natural material.  I've done hours of research on the subject and have come up with a guide / introduction. 
 (I will provide links to other website were I found some of my information.  If I neglect to give credit to someone please let me know.)

Getting Ready: General information

 Working with clay on a board helps define the child's workspace and makes clean-up easy.  When a child works on a defined surface, the edges of this surface give the child boundaries.  A define work surface helps focus attention and limit distractions.
  • A wooden board has the capacity to absorb excess water, can be cleaned with a wet sponge or paper towel, and is made from natural material.
  • Masonite boards / boards covered with a canvas cloth:  Staple or tack the canvas right to the boards or table so it doesn't slip around while the children are working. If you choose to use canvas or masonite, there is no need to clean with water.  Simply have the students scrap off any clay left on the work surface with a popsicle stick.  Once the clay has dried, the access bits can be dusted off into the trash.
  • Using clay on a plastic mat seems contradictory to the essence of clay and also causes clay to either slip around and/or stick to it.

Example: canvas covered clay board


Natural clay needs water. As the children use the clay, the air and the children’s hands absorb the water from the clay. Within approximately 30 to 40 minutes or less in dry climates, the clay will start becoming hard and brittle. Before the clay becomes too dry, the children should be taught how to add water to the clay.
  • If the children are young, they should use a defined amount of water through the wet paper towel method or the wet paper towel pad method. For the wet paper towel method, give each child a wet paper towel and teach how to squeeze out the water onto the hands. The hands can then add water to the clay. To make a paper towel pad, wet a folded wad of paper towels and place in a dish. The children can then pat the wet pad with their hands to add water to the clay. 
  • If the children are older and more mature, you can teach them how to dip their fingers into a shallow dish of water to remoisten the clay. All methods focus on having the hands wetting the clay and offering a defined amount of water.

Slip is watered down clay.  It is used in pottery as a “glue” to hold clay pieces together.  It also lessens the chance of cracking when it is used instead of water when joining pieces of leather hard clay (clay that is partly dried and firm)

What you need to make it: (1) dry clay scraps (2) water (3) resealable lidded container

Put dry scraps in container. (figure 1)  Add enough water to cover the clay. (figure 2)
In about 10-30 minutes the clay will disintegrate.  The smaller the clay pieces are, the faster this will happen. (figure 3) Stir well.  The mixture will be as thick as soft pudding. (figure 4)



Occasionally you need to add water to the slip as it will dry out over time.  Clay slip improves with age, getting smoother and creamer, and sometimes it will get downright smelly (like a swamp).  This is caused by mold growth.  Throw it away, if you want, but usually the slip that gets to this stage has a very fine texture to it.  To kill the mold, add a few drops of chlorine bleach to the mix and stir well.  That will eliminate the odor.

Natural clay can be used as an open-ended material and be reused over and over again. One teacher has reported on using the same block of clay for two years by following the method below. 
  • Use bucket that has a close fitting lid and line the bucket with a plastic kitchen garbage bag. This liner is essential and will help to keep the clay moist. 
  • After  working with the clay and before returning it to the bucket, add water to the clay. One way to do this is to have the children make a clay ball from their remaining clay on their boards and poke a hole with their thumb into the clay ball. Add water into the hole and close it by pinching it together. The dry ball will “drink” the water overnight and will be soft and supple by morning. 
  • Observe  the next day if there is any water left in the clay balls and adjust accordingly. Was there excess water in the ball? Was the ball soft enough? How much water is the right amount?

Clay Tools


Introduction to Clay

clay block, plastic table cloth, large fabric (canvas), baby wipes, chart paper / marker, video camera (for video & still pictures)

         Introduction Whole Group  (video the introduction ) 
  • Cover floor with plastic (table cloth) and tape it down 
  • Place block of clay in the middle.  Cover with a fabric until ready to introduce whole group. 
  • Ask  probing questions:
    • What do you think is under the sheet? Why do you think that?”
    • What would you use this for?”
    • How does it look? How do you think it would feel?”
    • Etc.

    Small Group Investigation: (video & photos)
  • Group of 4 (can do the whole class in 1 week)
  • Have kids remove shoes and socks and push up their sleeves
  • Have kids investigate anyway they want (hands, feet, etc.)
  • Pay extra attention to their vocabulary and descriptive words about the clay (make short notes of the conversation that you can later go back and watch on your video)
  • Aid in this conversation (only if needed)
    • Encourage them to describe what it feels like, “it’s cold, wet, sticky, squishy, soft, smooth, mucky…….”
    • "What happened when...?”
  • Clean Up: use baby wipes

Individual Work

(Materials: clay, a work surface and a wire cutter)

  • Take the clay out of the bag; place it on a clay board or other hard surface.
  • Use a wire cutter slice through the clay block and cut off the needed amount (each cut slice is called a slab) 
  • You can create balls of clay from the cut slabs by tearing the slab in half and forming it into a ball. 
  • One half of a slab is plenty for a child to begin to work with. The larger the amount, the more the child will want to pound it. If you give a child a small ball that fits in his/her hand a different type of interaction will occur with the clay. The child might roll the ball, model it in the hand or squeeze it between the hands. 


Students can explore clay through the senses and should be encouraged to respond to the feel, look and smell of the clay. 
  • Each child is given a ball of clay that fits comfortably in his/her hand. Encourage them to describe what it feels like, “it’s cold, wet, sticky, squishy, soft, smooth, mucky…….”What can we do with clay? What happens when we pinch, poke, pull, squeeze, twist, bend, roll, tear or punch the clay? 
  • Encourage the children to describe what happens when they try each of the above activities. What does the shape they have made remind them of? Have they ever seen anything like it before? Could they give it a name? Can they change the shape? How? 
  • Ask the children to close their eyes and try the activities. Encourage them to talk about what they have done, to describe what they have made. 
  • Try tearing pieces from the clay (subtractive method) and putting them back (additive method) on a different part of the ball of clay. Talk about the shapes they have made. By doing the above activities the children are exploring the possibilities of clay as a medium for imaginative expression; they are learning how clay behaves and how they can use it to make their imaginings take shape and form.
  • When children have had several sessions exploring clay through touch, they can begin to make things from the clay. For younger children it is better to pull shapes from the clay rather than joining on bits as they are not yet adept at joining and may be disappointed if bits fall off when the clay dries.
  • Other materials can be introduced, lollipop sticks and matchsticks as extra construction materials, found objects to create texture. The children can work from their imagination, characters from stories, poems, songs, T.V. They can work from their own experiences, family members, friends, pets.

~ See my "Clay Activities" post for clay projects and activities 

A Day In Pre-K


Morning Arrival
Our day begins with warm greetings as children and parents arrive, offering us an opportunity to reconnect with one another.  After hands are washed, children play inside until they hear the bell ring letting them know it is time to clean up.

“You wash your hands and then go play with your friends. When you hear the big bell it’s time for everyone to clean and sit on the carpet.”

We know the importance of starting each day with a full belly.  This also gives us an opportunity to visit with our friends before our workday starts.

 “I like going to breakfast. We get to sit by our friends and talk softly.”

Morning Meeting
Coming together as a group allows us to feel connected as a community.  Meeting time is crucial to the day’s events.  It is a time to discuss, consider and revisit previous experiences, providing continuity from day to day.  We also sing songs, read books, share news, and introduce new possibilities for the day.

 “We sing songs and dance.  Sometimes we read books and play games.”

Work Time
This is a time for children to explore their ideas, interest and theories.  Small groups emerge as children express and work through a problem or mystery.  Alongside of small groups are some of the staples of our classroom (free choice zones):
·     Art Activities: Paint, Clay, Woodwork,  & Wire Exploration, etc
·     Housekeeping / Dramatic Play
·     Building & Construction
·     Mathematical Concepts
·     Working on practical life activities

·    Writing notes / Dictation of stories / Creating   books

“Zones are my favorite.  We get to go play in the house and water.  I like painting with all the colors.”


During this time the children enjoy good food and good conversation.

“We go to the cafeteria to eat snack.  I like it when we get orange juice, but sometimes we get apple juice.”

Outdoor Play
The large open space gives the children the opportunity to negotiate social skills as they climb the structure, ride the bikes, and dig in the sand.

“We ride our bikes outside.  We have to take turns because there ain’t enough for everyone.”

Reflection Meeting
Our reflection meeting is an exciting time.  It’s a time for explaining work, asking questions, developing or revising theories, and helping each other to solve mysteries or problems that emerge from small group work.

“Reflection is when we sit and listen to kids.  We get to help them with a problem.”

Lunch is a time for children to nurture their bodies while enjoying each other’s company. 

“We eat lunch before we take a nap, so we are not hungry when we are sleeping.”

Nap Time
This is a time that children can relax to soft music and reflect on the day they just experienced. All children are encouraged to sleep, but some choose to do quiet activities on their mat or at a table.  Children nap until their parents arrive.

 “Nap time is when you lay down and when you wake up your mommy is there! I take a nap at school, but not at home.  I don’t get tired at home.”

Children are softly awakened by their parents.  This is a time to say goodbye to friends.

“When my mom comes I show her all the things I did.  I like it when she is here to wake me.”