Haere mai! Welcome to Mairtown Kindergarten's blog.

Nau Mai Haere mai. Welcome to Mairtown Kindergarten's blog.

21 Princes Street, Kensington, Whangarei, New Zealand

Phone: 09 437 2742

Email: mairtown@nka.org.nz

Follow our blog by email

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Celebrating Clay

In my role as a teacher of young children I feel that it is crucial that I allow them both time and space to explore different experiences. One of these experiences that I love to observe is children working with is clay.

At Mairtown Kindergarten we have clay out most days, it is there for children to explore at their own pace, as well as being a resource that we use to extend on children’s thinking and knowledge. I have documented the use of clay previously on our blog where I discussed the role it plays in helping children turn their 2D drawings into 3D sculptures (Click here to view).

Although the end product of clay work is often interesting and beautiful I really wanted to concentrate in this write up on the importance of children having continuous use of clay in our kindergarten. Clay is a great open ended resource that should be celebrated for all the greatness it brings to our learning environment for children of all ages.

“Clay is open-ended, malleable, and durable, which makes it especially fitting for a developmentally appropriate curriculum for young children. Clay supports children’s development and learning by affording children the opportunity to actively explore a very dynamic material, to develop understandings and test those understandings through hands on experiences.” (Berk, 2008; Smith & Goldhaber, 2004)

When children have the opportunity to explore and revisit experiences, like clay, over and over their learning is enhanced and they develop a relationship with the material. Clay is an interesting tactile and intriguing resource. It can be messy and sticky or smooth and silky. It is a great medium that is so versatile. Some children enjoy patting, poking, squishing and massaging the clay, others enjoy using it to create representations of their ideas and thoughts.

I have noticed when children work with clay they are often deeply engaged, their concentration is at a heightened level but at the same time they seem to have a sense of calmness that over comes them.

“While I have worked with students in other art mediums, something magical happens when children work with clay. Whether it is the sensory response to the clay, the ability to be in charge of the medium or, perhaps, the ability to express and articulate their emotions through their physical prodding or smoothing of the clay, all children, even those with high activity levels, become engaged and engrossed in their work.” (Storms)

Some children approach clay with confidence, happily picking up the natural resource and moulding it in the palm of their hands. Other children however, approach it in a more reserved and cautious manner, observing others using the clay first, then carefully engaging with it themselves. It is important in either respect that children are given ample time to explore clay at their own pace, and where appropriate with the support of an encouraging and considerate adult.

When working alongside children who are engaged in clay experiences, I feel as a teacher, that it is vital to find a balance between not being over bearing and providing too many ‘rules’ to making sure you are role modelling techniques and offering gentle encouragement along the way.

“Working to help children develop their creativity requires that we refrain from being overbearing or too directive, but it does allow us be concerned expert coaches, articulate inspirational artists, and encouraging helpers. When it comes to fostering creativity, good open questions are priceless. Good crafts grow out of good thinking, intrinsic desire, and lots of practice; not from external rules.” (Bartel, 2002)

Having clay out all the time also means that it creates opportunitities for children to develop skills and knowledge about how to use this resource to support their interests. This in turn means that we end up having children who become experts in using clay and they often become wonderful role models and peer tutors for their friends. It is always so great to witness this kind of leadership take place within our environment, and it is really supported greatly by allowing our children to revisit this resource over a long period of time. 

Recently I have been spending quite a lot of time at the clay table. In this space I have been supporting children in any way that is needed, whether this is just letting them be at one with the clay or whether this is offering them advice in how to develop techniques that they can use to manipulate the clay, to help them create the end piece they are striving for. Clay has many benefits for children’s learning development including, but not limited to, fostering gross and fine motor development, enhancing hand-eye coordination and extending on language and creative thinking. Being so easy to manipulate and create with means that often children’s imaginative ideas are extended on as their clay comes to life. All in all it is an experience that is enjoyed by many, one that fosters many different learning areas and the joy that comes from this space is delightful.

We also like to take clay outside, not only into the kindergarten outdoor area, but also on our Nature Programme in the local Mair Park bush. Here the children enjoy making treasures with the clay that they often gift to the bush. It is always interesting returning in the weeks afterwards to see what has happened to the gifts that they have left. This highlights one of the great aspects of clay, being that it is a natural and versatile resource, and that when the gifts are left in the bush it doesn’t have a negative impact on the environment.

As mentioned above, clay should be available for the children that we work with continuously. The reason for this is so that they have opportunities to revisit, revisit and revisit and in turn develop a relationship with the material that will in turn support and enhance their learning and development. Clay is an incredibly enjoyable and tangible resource that should be celebrated in our world of early childhood education. Clay enables both the hands and the mind to work creatively together and this is summed up beautifully by Thomas Aquinas who defined "human" as, "a being with brains and hands. As such our greatest joy comes when we can employ both our brains and our hands simultaneously in ways which are creative, useful, and productive."

Till next time,



Michelle José said...

I love how you are embracing clay with the children - I have finally found an early childhood educator that loves clay as much as I do - Thank you!

Unknown said...

Hola Zair :)
Awesome to read about clay from your experiences ! at the moment I am doing action research and guess what?... I am looking at clay, as a sustainable resource to introduce to young children ... some of my questions are related to children's engagement,language and also teachers attitudes towards clay experiences.
Well done Zair and keep up with the awesome work you do!:)
Andrea E Williams-Russ
Hawkes Bay