Documenting our Reggio-inspired Invitation to ‘Clay’

I believe that clay’s properties make it a much more versatile and sustainable media than the more popular alternative, playdough. The surface of clay is smooth and cool, its mass is weighty and dense. I appreciate it’s need for greater exertion, more pressure, more time, more care and its ability to take shape and transform. It is a material that children can return to and that is responsive to their touch. It is a wonderful media with which to build a physical, experiential knowledge, learning how it moves, changes shape and holds our touch.

Before working with clay as an art medium, children need to understand it’s identity. This stage one exploration emphaises full-body exploration, inviting children to climb on a big block of clay, dig into it with their toes and finger, press into it with their elbows and knees. As young children bring their whole bodies to their relationship with clay, they experience responsiveness of the clay. This first encounter, body to body, begins the dialogue between body and clay.

The Language of Art by Ann Pelo

Clay involves very little preparation and very little input and for first encounters you do not need any fancy clay tools or loose parts. All your child needs to bring to their first encounter with clay is their innate curiosity and their whole bodies. All we need to do as parents is to sit back, observe and embrace the mess. If we choose to join in with our children then we should follow their lead, working alongside them mimicking their movements and interactions with the clay. Resist the urge to use the clay for representation at this stage. This is about children exploring and becoming comfortable and confident with the properties of clay.

Our encounter began with a 1.5kg block of red air dry clay. We explored the block with our fingers, our hands, our feet. Squashing, pressing, squeezing, ripping, tearing, rolling, shaping. We pressed it to our cheeks to experience the cool temperature, the smoothness. We rolled small pieces between our fingertips, before pressing them back down into the body of the clay. We stood tall and heavy and let it give under our weight and seep between our toes. Finally we added water, at first just the drip drip from a small off cut of sponge and then a steady stream from the red watering can, allowing us to explore our power to enact change, to transform.

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