Exploring the Language of Clay

To welcome in a new school year, the Gold Room spent time in the art studio using and exploring clay as we got to know one other. For some of us who were reacquainting, we shared stories about the goings on in our lives since we were together last. The children new to the school were first given a tour of the studio by their classmates, and then put at ease by the responsive and grounding medium of clay. Though the intention was to explore the clay’s properties, it wasn’t long before they were discussing what they noticed about the clay and creating sculptures informed by what they were beginning to learn about it.

IMG_2268“How can this be hard and soft at the same time? You have to be strong to use this stuff!”

“You can make lots of things with clay…snakes, worms, eggs…lots of animals…lots of pancakes! Do you know, I remember using this before.”

“Before, when I was little, I didn’t know how to use clay. Now I know right away.”


Student: This feels really cold. Is it because it’s not in the sun?”
Student (nodding at the other student): If it was in the sun, it would be smoking’ hot! We would probably burn our fingers.
Student: If we lived in a cold place, it would be cold. It changes outside here. It turns to all different things…so sometimes it’s cold and sometimes it’s hot. The hotness would make the clay hot and the coldness would make it cold.

The children used their fingers and hands to create a variety of shapes and forms. They made small and large coils, cubes, balls, and cylinders. They combined these to create animals, food, and people.


One student’s work went through many different transformations. First, he explored it as a large piece. He banged it on the table, pounded it flat, and rolled it into a large ball. Next, he broke off smaller pieces and rolled “eggs” on the table. After making quite a few, he decided to make two nests which he explained were “at the top of towers so it keeps ’em safe”. Lastly, he decided to make the tower nest again, this time combining the two small ones into a larger, more sturdy piece. He made the request that it not be taken apart until it was shown to the next group of children.

“Look at my big muscles!!! I can rip the bunch of clay with my muscles!”


After sharing the bird nest tower with the other children, another student asks if she could add to the piece. She says she is worried about the eggs not being safe from the wind since the tower is so tall and she has an idea to help protect the eggs. She adds flat pieces around the edge of the nest to block the wind, and wire to tangle anyone who might climb the tower. She also uses the edge of the scraper to carve lines into the tower. She says, “I made a sign. It says, ‘Don’t come up here.’”


“Look at my Dalmatian! This is the tail part. I added little circles to make the spots.”

Observing the children work with the clay, it is interesting to see the complexity of their work. Not only in the manipulation of the medium, nor just in what they created, but in their planning and conversation surrounding what they were doing. They all seemed very confident working the medium, and many of the children remembered and understood how to get the clay to do what they wanted.

Clay is different from other art mediums in that it requires an understanding of the three dimensional world. They begin to understand shape, form, and perspective, and therefore get a first lesson in geometry. The child learns to really look and see the world around them and discovers their place in that world. They gain knowledge of planning methods and problem solving as they map out their three dimensional ideas.


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