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Stepping Stones / February 2018 | Arts & Activities
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Jan 2018

Stepping Stones / February 2018

Stepping Stones / February 2018

Stepping Stones is a monthly column that breaks down seemingly daunting tasks into simple, manageable “steps” that any art educator can take and apply directly to their classroom. Stepping Stones will explore a variety of topics and share advice for art-on-a-cart teachers and those with art rooms.

by Heidi O’Hanley

One of the trickiest materials to work with while traveling or working without a room is clay. Clay materials can take up a bit of space, but it’s one of the most entertaining projects that students become engaged in. 

No matter if it’s play dough or ceramic clay, students love to sculpt and mold! Clay projects can be created in any space you work in. From the start, it may appear to overwhelm you, but if you plan accordingly, clay projects can be some of your most successful lessons of the school year. 

1. Start with knowing your space. Do you have a classroom all year round? You can provide space in your room to work and store materials. Do you have a kiln in your school? Even better! Is there a kiln in the district, but not in your room? Consider creating clay projects that can handle traveling to another school to be fired. Do you travel? Investigate where you can store materials either before the clay is used or while the projects are drying.

2. Figure out with clay works best. If you have a kiln in your school or district, you have the ability to use ceramic clay that can be fired and glazed. If not, consider ordering air-dry clay, which can help in giving your students a similar experience with molding the material. Even with traveling from room to room, you can manage providing clay lessons for your students. The key to teaching clay from a cart is to communicate with your co-workers on how to manage the clay with a shared space.

3. Communicate with other teachers involved. If you move a cart from room to room, inform your co-workers about your intent to use clay materials. Your co-worker may have space to help store projects during the week, such as the top of shelves or closets. When you communicate with the teacher, both of you can collaborate to help students have the experience of working with the materials. In the past, when I traveled from room to room, I would keep the air-dry clay in a box behind the teacher’s desk in the morning, which made it easier for me to travel without moving around a heavy box.


Clay projects can be some

of your most successful lessons 

of the school year.


4. Research how to disperse the clay. Since I currently have a room, I find it easier to use the clay cutter to disperse the clay. When I was traveling, I would split the clay in advance and place it in boxes in the teacher’s classrooms until I visited for my art time. Managing your clay materials will make it easier for you no matter what situation you teach in.

5. Protect the tabletops. Whether your classroom tables or students’ desks, figure out how to cover your table space. I use 12″ x 12″ canvas clothes for our clay projects, but when I traveled, I needed to use gallon-size plastic zipper bags to protect student desks. During clean up, it’s always good to have a cleaner recommended by the school district. Art time in elementary can be limited, but with the mess that clay can make, leave extra time for cleaning the tables.

6. There are other clay materials that work. In our district, we introduce ceramic or air-dry clay in third grade and create a clay-based project each year until eighth grade. For my early elementary grade levels, I still use Crayola model magic for some of the student projects. Our intent is to have the early elementary develop an understanding of form—how two-dimensional shapes can be made into a three-dimensional form. We also want students to learn how to create basic forms before using more advanced clay materials, like ceramic clays.

7. It’s okay to use Play dough. At the kindergarten level, I introduce using play dough and the students love it! It helps them become familiar with clay materials, plus they giggle and laugh with everything they make! There are simple clay tools that help with fine motor development, such as rollers, scissors, and press molds for rolling, pressing, cutting, and molding. At the end of the class, the clay can be put away for another class to use.

8. Plan how you’ll design and finish the pieces. If you have the materials and space provided, take it the next step! If you have a kiln, there are plenty of glazes available to use to decorate your fired clay projects! If you do not have access to a kiln, consider having students use acrylic paints to finish their projects. Acrylic leaves a bright color coating, plus you can add a clear coat to protect the paint.

No matter what space you have or what your teaching situation is, you can always make room for clay projects! Have courage and plan time to get creative with clay! 

Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Heidi O’Hanley (NBCT), teaches art at Brodnicki Elementary School in Justice, Illinois. Visit her blog at www.talesfromthetravellingartteacher.blogspot.com.


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