Material: Air Dry Clay
Have you ever noticed that kids don’t need a lot of bells and whistles and fancy stuff to get creative, have fun, and feel on top of the world? Yesterday we foraged some cardboard boxes from a neighbor’s move because 4-year old Nutmeg has a vision of building a space station.
Today I’d like to introduce you to ONE material that helps build creative thinking, and share some tips on how to use it. The idea is to keep your life simple while supporting your child’s curiosities.
Crayola makes a wonderful product called Air Dry Clay. You can buy it in 2.5 or 5 pound containers. The 5 lb. container is about $10, and if you store it properly it will last for ages. I’ve had our 2.5 lb. tub for about 5 months, we use it about once/month, and it’s still in great shape.
But why buy clay, if you have play dough?
I’m an enormous fan of play dough (here’s the BEST play dough recipe if you’re looking for one), but there are some unique benefits to clay:
- In terms of squeezing, building, and inventing, clay and play dough serve similar purposes, but the texture of clay gives children a different sensory experience.
- Kids will enjoy learning that clay is a special kind of dirt that can be molded and dried at high temperatures to create dimensional objects
- Clay is more dense and requires stronger muscles to mold it and work with it.
- Adding water to clay creates a slippery material that many children love to play with. In the real “clay world” a mixture of water and clay is called “slip” and it’s used to attach one dry clay piece to another.
- Clay can be molded into sculptures and objects that can be saved and later painted: pinch pots, bowls, alligators, rockets, etc.
How we use it
We always pull all the clay from the bucket and divide it in two, so that each of my kids has a hefty piece. Our table is covered with a plastic table cloth,, and at the end of the project clean-up is easy with a few wipes of a rag or sponge.
To begin, I usually give my kids a pile of clay…and that’s it!
I like to scaffold my projects, meaning that I’ll slowly introduce materials to them. I do this because I find that extending a project like this improves their ability to fully explore phenomena and keeps them from being done in 3 minutes flat. You’ve had that happen right?!
Once that runs its course, I’ll give my kids a small bowl of water so that they can add it to the clay to moisten it. Older children will probably dab the water with their fingers and add it to the clay as needed. My monkeys, on the other hand, are champions of bowl-dumping. And that’s fine. If the table is getting too wet I’ll limit them to “x” number of bowls. They love playing with the clay when it’s wet…it’s a totally different sensory experience.
And finally, I’ll introduce them to a simple tool such as popsicle sticks, toothpicks, wooden knife, glass marbles, etc. Again, I usually try to keep this to one material so that they’re not overwhelmed by choices. Having one material to add to the clay invites them to push their imaginations and test multiple solutions to problems.
When they’re done, the clay goes back into the container. While this clay is designed to “air dry” we solely use it for the purpose of sensory play, fine motor development, and imagination-building.
I wipe the table down with a clean, damp terry cloth rag. Any clay that gets on the clothes should wash right out. Put clumps of clay back in the container or in the trash. It’s important that clay doesn’t go down your sink, or it will clog your pipes.
I’m planning to write about other art and exploration materials: is there anything that you’d like to see me write about?
Mr. Rogers Episode 1763: Celebrates the Arts. Mr. Rogers meets potter Dolly Naranjo who forages clay from a hillside, mixes it with volcanic ash (with her foot!), and shows us how to make a coil pot. If you have Amazon Prime, you can screen it for FREE by clicking on the link.
Clay and Children: The Natural Way to Learn. By Marvin Bartel at Goshen College Art Department. A wonderful resource by a potter on teaching children about clay.
What is clay? on KinderArt. Kid-friendly definition of clay, words used in the pottery studio (wedge, kiln, slip, glaze, etc.)
Make Air Dry Pendants, from Melissa at The Chocolate Muffin Tree