10 tips for lessons with clay

By | 2017-08-22T20:29:09+00:00 January 22nd, 2016|For teachers|0 Comments

Clay is a wonderful medium and fun for all to work with. It’s also a really important tool for supporting children’s sensory development. Slightly less fun is the cleaning, storing and kiln issues that go with it. So here’s some handy hints from fellow teachers on how to avoid sticky situations.

Keeping tables clean

Let’s face it, the art room will probably get a little messy no matter what you do. But in terms of damage reduction you don’t need spend a fortune. Make a table cover out of unprimed canvas, buy a cheap cloth tarp from your local hardware chain, or even cut up floor lino. Some teachers use construction paper, or even newspaper – they swear the print burns off in the kiln.

Colouring clay without glaze

Glaze is great, but it can also be a little pricey. Check out this great article from The Art of Ed with 15 ways to add color to clay.

Dried out clay

Got a big old box of dried out clay blocks? Put the clay in a big garbage bag, preferably inside a garbage can, with a little water and seal up the bag. Every days add more water and rotate the blocks. Once the clay gets a little soft, make holes in it with a chopstick, a screwdriver (whatever is to hand), fill the holes with water, and wrap the clay back up in plastic. Keep doing this until the clay starts to get soft all the way through, if needed you can cut the blocks in half and continue the process. Time consuming but budget friendly! Don’t forget you can also recycle dried mistakes!

Clay Plate by ARAS015, at 13y from Canada

Clay Plate by ARAS015, at 13y from Canada

Inspiration

A common question amongst many art teachers is where to find lesson plans and inspiration. You’ll find a lot of educational resources on Ceramics Art Daily or Kinderart. Art supplier Dick Blick has lesson plans for all ages, and let’s not forget art educator John Post, who has an amazing collection of clay and art projects, and The Clay Teacher, who believes that every day should be clay day!

Teaching clay without a kiln

Thinking about air dry clay? Be warned, it can often be more sticky or oily than normal clay, and some teachers report a much higher breakage rate, so try to keep projects small and simple. The Art of Ed has more advice.

Explosions

Every teacher’s worst nightmare.Your students have worked hard for weeks on a project and then you hear the dreaded ‘pop’ from the kiln. The main reasons for this happening is not enough drying time (some teachers recommend up to a week), air bubbles, and students not joining clay together properly. Here’s some advice on how to avoid issues:

“Remember to emphasize the four S’s score, slip, smoosh, and smooth when joining clay”

I put all the projects student make ON TOP of the kiln and fire the kiln. The next day I put the thoroughly dried projects in the kiln. Nothing blows up in the kiln ever that way.”

“I have a solution for pieces that pop off before firing. It’s called paper clay and it’s a miracle! You mix 1 part toilet paper with 2 parts slip in a blender. The resulting slip will repair ANYTHING, even at a bone dry stage. I would have a lot more tears in the elementary art room if it wasn’t for the paper clay.”

“I usually point  couple of fans at the claywork. It seems to help. For very small pieces I have even used a hairdryer on a very low setting – this doesn’t work for thick pieces though as it only dries the outside.”

My 1st Clay Art Collection by Matthew Cruz, 8y 3m, from the Philippines

My 1st Clay Art Collection by Matthew Cruz, 8y 3m, from the Philippines

Teaching very small children

If you are unconvinced about the benefits of giving clay to preschoolers, read this article. From teaching problem solving, to raising self esteem and practicing fine motor skills, there is no end to what working with clay can achieve. Fairy Dust Teaching has some tips for inspired clay play and you’ll also find lots of great ideas on Pinterest.

Learn from the masters

Unsure if you’re doing things right? Wondering what other ceramics teachers do everyday? Don’t know how to handle emotional teenage girls in class? Here’s a collection of essays from five successful ceramics teachers that are chock full of practical advice, as well as amusing and thought provoking anecdotes.

Getting clay home in one piece

First and foremost, remember it’s a child’s responsibility to get their work home in once piece. That said there are a few tricks you can employ that might help. Approach the administration. If they have a paper shredder the output is perfect for packing around sculptures. Another teacher collects shoeboxes to lend students, marked with ‘please return to the art room’. When the box is returned the student gets a small treat or surprise. Another teacher recommends getting the students to design beautiful paper bags to carry their art home in. The fact that the work is wrapped so nicely means the students are more likely to take care.

Untitled by JaydonW at 10y, from the United States

Untitled by JaydonW at 10y, from the United States

Final tip

When students are working with clay, remember to get them to wash their hands in a bucket of water. Not only will the clay parts sink to the bottom allowing you to add to a slip later, you may save yourself the headache of a clogged art room sink!

Remember that with a Creatubbles online portfolio, your students will always have a record of what they made, even if the ceramics don’t make it home, or out of the kiln, in one piece! So if you haven’t already, be sure to sign up to Creatubbles and create free online portfolios for all your students.

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