By Darryl Redick
When working with young children, I wanted to help them appreciate and use their resources to communicate with the world. Their resources are their hands, feet, eyes, and voice. I wanted them to be able to use materials to express what is inside their hearts and minds; I wanted them to strive for understanding about life.
One material that children have the right to explore in our program is clay. There are endless possibilities of working with clay. The children have complete freedom to transform their creation while creating. A coil can become a snake or part of a motorcycle. A ball can become part of a snowman or the head of a loved one.
By pounding, rolling, poking, and pinching the clay, the children are strengthening the muscles in their hands. Strengthening their hands will help them with their ability to hold a pencil as they write or draw.
As with drawing, clay is useful as a medium for building relationships. Children play with the earth in their hands, all while talking with each other, and with you, the adult. This practice helps them develop their language and communication skills.
Most of the younger children may still need to play around with the properties of clay. Their process should be more exploratory as they figure out what this medium can do. Children with more experience will be able to bring their forms to life in increasingly sophisticated ways. They may be able to combine strategies and use geometric thinking to manifest their ideas.
When I introduce clay to adults to help them use it with children, many are intimidated or afraid to get their hands dirty. When I started in the classroom, I did not know much about working with clay with children. Then my mentors taught me that one of the roles of a teacher is as a researcher. I had to learn and learn with the children. I had to explore the clay with my hands alongside the children. I also looked for information that aligned with my philosophy as an educator. [Here] is an article from Marvin Bartel. I referred to his writing often when I needed to learn about art materials. If you decide to explore this clay with your child, I hope that his words are helpful for you as well.
[Here] is a link to a video of my daughter Alanah (7 years old) modeling how to build a house out of clay. She was engaged for an hour. She made two versions of a house: One simple and one more complex. My son, Makoa (2.5 years old) was exploring alongside of her. For parents with multiple children, one school-age, and one preschool age, you will see that this experience can engage both age groups at the same time.