This week on Tuesday we began working with modelling clay in the Seed room. We have a ton of clay, and plenty of time, so I expect that we will be visiting the clay at least once per week, and rotating children in small groups initially.
Clay. Sticky, gray, cold, wet. A strange and unfamiliar material for some of the children. We often work with play doh at Elm House, and so one might assume that the experience of clay would easily translate. Not so! The children were all hesitant about touching the clay. I offered them tools, and while they were happy to stick the tools in the clay, they were uncertain about touching the clay. They were reluctant to touch it, even when their tools got stuck and they wanted to pull the tools out, they resorted to shaking the tools rather than touch the clay.
So I decided to work the clay in my hands instead.
“I’m pushing the clay around with my fingers. It’s cold and sticky. Look at my hands! [I hold up my hands] They are gray! What happens to your hands if you touch the clay?” Slowly they began to warm up to the idea of touching the clay.
Shelan became fixated on the connection between clay and play doh, maybe because they are both flexible sculpting materials, maybe because we were using some of the same tools we use for play doh. In any case, she pressed down hard into the clay, on a cookie cutter, an action which had always produced satisfying results with the play doh.
“Mage, heeeelp. Mage. It stuck. Get it out. Maaaage. Need help.”
“Oh, the cookie cutter is stuck in the clay, and you would like some help to pull it out! I wonder if Lauren might be able to help you. You could ask Lauren for help!” I offered.
Shelan turned to Lauren and said, “Lauren, can you help me? It stuck.”
No luck! “Maybe Q can help?”
“Q can you help me?” asked Shelan.
Q came over, and all three of the children tried to pull it out at the same time.
“Hmm,” I said. “All of you pulled on the cookie cutter together, and the cookie cutter is still stuck! I wonder what would happen if we put some water on the clay.”
After watering the clay with the cookie cutter, the clay became pliable enough that Shelan could pull the cookie cutter out.
The next morning, we revisted the clay. Again they focused mainly on the tools. I began to talk with them about how we could make shapes with the clay using our hands. I demonstrated how to roll a ball between my hands, several times. Some of the children tried it themselves, though mostly they wanted more demonstrations from me. After some time they tired of the clay and were ready to move on. I was putting the clay away when Q came over to a chunk of clay that Hannah had left on the table, with a tool sticking out of it. (“I’m making a smoothie” is what she told me.) Q tried to pull the tool out, but it was stuck.
Q looked at me and said, “It need water.”
And I have to tell you, it’s moments like these that motivate me as an educator. When a child has made a connection with earlier learning, and shares that learning without being prompted. So even though the children didn’t quite figure out how to roll balls or snakes, and they mainly wanted to watch me do it, hearing Q bring up something he had learned about clay the previous day reminded me that young children’s minds process information a little differently than adults do. Sometime soon I expect the children will try rolling their own balls, and it’s ok that they weren’t ready to do it on Wednesday. We have plenty of clay, and we have plenty of time.