In early childhood, materials are closely connected to making. They are often set out for children to make or create something with, frequently with the assumption that children are full of ideas just waiting to be expressed through these materials. Yet as Hillrvi Lenz Taguchi (2010) describes, ‘the material world acts on our thinking as much as our thinking acts on the material world’s’. We are moved by materials and are prompted by the new materials own characteristics and liveliness. It is never as simple as idea directly imposed on form”Encounters with materials in early childhood education (pg.26)
Once children have had the opportunity for lots of open-ended, exploration with clay, my next step is to introduce a small pot of water with a sponge so that they are able to investigate how the properties of clay change when it becomes wet.
The first time I set up this encounter for Althea I did it on a much smaller scale at the table, but there is no reason why you cannot incorporate it into your exploration of a larger block of clay. I laid out a block of air dry clay on a piece of canvas (that, once the residue dried, made a lovely piece of accidental art work) and placed a small bowl of water and a sponge alongside it.
I sat opposite and started by manipulating my own piece of clay with my hands, pushing, pressing, pulling, inviting her to work alongside me. I then quietly modelled how to use the sponge to add water.
Below is the video documentation of the dialogue that took place between Althea and I during her first encounter with clay and water.
An encounter with wet clay on canvas
In this clip there is quite a bit of dialogue for the purpose of illustrating what it might look like during a child-led, inquiry based encounter, but I do make sure there is plenty space for quiet, uninterrupted exploration.
I try to stick to open-ended questions that might encourage reflection and further inquiry.
I do not offer direction I simply repeat her own words back to her, sometimes interpreting non-verbal communications (Althea was 32 months at the time)
I also do not restrict her exploration. She can add as much of the water that I have provided as she likes. The key here being that I obviously decide how much water to put in the bowl.
(The shushing is because her sister is napping and we need to be quiet!)