Open-ended Art: Clay Play

I feel like every time I write a blog post about clay I talk about how it’s an incredibly magical medium…because it is! Out of all the different projects I’ve done, materials I present, prompts I give, tools I offer, nothing captures my student’s attention like clay. Tantrums, grumpiness, hunger, distraction all dissipate when a child settles down with clay. My classroom goes quiet, everyone is smiling..even giggling, to play with clay is pure magic…pure happiness.
If you don’t have a kiln don’t let that stop you from doing clay work. We have great success with air-dry clay which can be found at your local art store or purchased through Discount School Supplies. I buy a 25lb. bag which makes 1-3 small to medium clay pieces for around 50 students.
Hands down the best tool/crowd pleaser is the garlic press. I buy these at the Dollar Tree for $1. That can’t be beat! After each class period I squeeze and scrape out as much clay from the tool, then let it dry and bang out the rest of the clay once it’s dry. Best not to try and soak and wash clay tools because it’s laborious and can clog your sink.
Part of working with clay is working with water. Kids love water play so this is a win win. I give a very small amount of water…about 1/4 inch of water in a recycled applesauce container along with a 1/4 of a sponge (pre-cut). They have a choice to squeeze the water onto the clay with the sponge, but many enjoy washing and wiping the clay. Water on clay creates an amazing slipper sensory experience that is hard to duplicate with any other medium.
Kids love tools, but hand working clay is satisfying too!
I’ve recently discovered an inexpensive and effective rolling pin, closet dowels cut down. Notice I have cotton fabric between the plastic tray and the clay. This is important because clay sticks to plastic. I use torn down bed sheets from the thrift store.
It’s fun to stick objects in clay. This time around we used rainbow Popsicle sticks and over-sized colorful buttons.
To honor our clay pieces and help with longevity we brushed on diluted (50/50) Mod Pod. This helps the embellishments stay and pumps up the color. I really make sure not to stress the finished product, but inevitably something always wonderful comes out of playful art.

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