Clay is my FAVORITE. I love how clay awakens senses that are not always activated in the art room – it feels interesting in your hands and smells like the earth or a river or a rainy day. Clay is so special because many of my students only get to use it once a year, in my classroom. In the past I have done clay projects where every student makes a version of the same object. This year, I wanted to challenge myself and my students to have more of a choice-based opportunity for exploring and creating with clay. I was apprehensive at first because so much can go wrong with clay as a material. It can dry out too quickly while you work with it or too slowly before it goes into the kiln. It can ‘explode’ inside of the kiln. It can break or shatter or bottom out. With so many ways that things could go wrong, I was determined to set up the unit with as much structure as possible to help things go right. And I must say — it was an incredible success! To be honest, I am astonished at how smooth, fun, and efficacious the entire process was. So — here is how I did it. . . .
On day one we talked about the rules for clay. No clapping your hands to make dust, no covering your hands with water to make mud, no stabbing the clay with the tools, no spaghetti-noodle stick out pieces (which would inevitable snap off and break) no giant solid chunky pieces (which would inevitably explode), absolutely NO throwing clay, etc.
The first day also had some clay challenges for students to complete. They had to create a pinch pot, a coil, a slab, and scratch and attach. If there was time after the rules and challenges, students could explore with clay on their own. If they ended up creating something on that first day they could keep it or save it. Most of the kids ended up “trashing” their clay but there were some who started or completed a mini project that first day.
On day two students sketched their idea for their project. They were required to label their sketch with what clay form would be used to build it. For example if a kid was making a tea cup, they had to label it “pinch pot” and “coil.” They did not use clay at all this day, I emphasized that it was important to have a detailed blue-print of how they would be constructing their project because since there were so many different ideas it would be impossible for me to sit with everyone and help them build. They had to be a little independent for this one!
On day three each student got a pre-cut chunk of clay. They could get more if they needed. Having the clay already measured out really seemed to help with size management. I kept all of the chinks of clay in a big plastic bin and sprayed them lightly with water. I would usually prepare the clay in the morning or even the day before so this was super helpful for keeping clay fresh.
Students had that entire third day to build their designs. Many of them quickly realized that their ideas were too ambitious. So – the backup plan for everyone was to make a pinchpot or a cupcake. I showed every class how to create a pinchpot/coil cupcake just in case students ended up needing an idea to fall back on. We talked about how it is ok if an art idea doesn’t work out the way you intended, all artists go through a trial and error process! I think that having a backup plan helped kids from getting too discouraged if their initial idea didn’t work out. And some kids even chose to do a cupcake as their first choice design!
Since this was so personalized, several popular themes emerged. Most of the creations seemed to fall into the following categories: food, pop culture, animals, and sports.
Lots of pizza:
Memes & Minions:
SpongeBob & The Flash:
Minnie Mouse, Mickey Mouse, & BayMax:
There were tons of great slab constructed projects:
And many creations that combined construction techniques:
My favorite thing about this process is that students were able to have a deeply personal connection with their work. The kids got to create something that expressed their interests, hobbies, and passions. Each and every project is as unique as the kid who made it. Navigating the logistics and organization of this project has inspired me to do more choice-based projects in the future. 🙂
❤ Mrs. K