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Mainstream Baby Toys we use in our Montessori home.

The Importance of Using Clay!

Clay materials at How we Montessori

What art materials do your children like using? Mine have been loving good old earthy clay. It's simple and underrated. There are many brightly coloured art materials and toys available for children it's easy to overlook or even forget about clay. There is so much competing for our child's attention and for our attention as parents. Clay is incredibly easy to use and in most locations, it is affordable and easy to find. Clay is a wonderful medium for children, it:

  • is natural, helps to create a connection to our natural resources.
  • has a really good weight, a large packet is heavy, a small ball can be felt in the child's hand. 
  • has an interesting and unique texture.
  • has unique sculptural qualities.
  • requires some strength and effort to manipulate.
  • can be reused if stored correctly.
  • is affordable and accessible.
  • is an open-ended medium with no limit on options and possibilities.
  • helps to develop gross and fine motor skills, requires the use of muscles in the arm right through to the small pinches and movements of the fingers. It helps to develop a connection between the hand and the mind, as the hand works the mind works.
  • can help improve coordination and dexterity. 
  • can assist in developing concentration and focus.
  • can assist in developing planning and decision-making skills, forward thinking and problem-solving.
  • provides an interesting tactile experience, it feels different when wet or dry, different from playdough or plasticine. 
  • can assist with self-expression and can be an outlet for creativity. 
  • can help build and develop mathematical and engineering problem-solving skills, for example when making 3D sculptures and geometric shapes, can used to build buildings, bridges and other complex structures.
  • allows for an authentic art experience, it has been used as an art medium for thousands of years. 

Otis slicing clay at HWM

Clay can be an issue for children who do not like the sensory experience of the often cold and wet medium, some children don't like it when it's too wet or don't like the way it feels, it should be noted that some children may need to be introduced to clay slowly and others might not like it altogether. 

For young children exploration is key and no prompts or suggestions are needed. However, if your children are older like mine, here are a few ideas to get the children thinking about clay differently:

  • Provide clay tools.
  • Provide no tools, children must work with their hands only.
  • Provide naturals tools and materials: 
    • sticks,
    • leaves,
    • shells,
    • bark,
    • pine cones,
    • driftwood,
    • flowers,
    • feathers,
    • dried flowers or lavender,
    • gum nuts or seed pods,
    • rocks, smooth stones.
  • Provide other tools such as:
    • cookie cutters,
    • stamps,
    • rolling pins,
    • wire brush,
    • wool, string, twine,
    • glass tiles or beads,
    • craft sticks, matchsticks,
    • wooden skewers,
    • buttons,
    • scissors,
    • corks,
    • ribbon,
    • craft wire,
    • child-friendly knife such as a crinkle cutter,
    • wood hammer or mallet,
    • old forks or spoons,
    • pipecleaners,
    • cotton reels,
    • paper straws. 
  • Provide a theme such as "under the water/ocean", "ancient Egypt", or "insects", make it age appropriate.
  • Ask the child make a person or an animal
  • Challange the child to make a building or a bridge. 
  • Challenge the child to make a vessel such as a bowl - or teach a technique such as how to make a pinch pot or coil bowl. 
  • Make hand or footprints in the clay.
  • Allow the children to use as much clay as they like, or give them just enough to fit in their hand, ask them to mold it in their hands and squish it while you talk to them, like therapy. 

Otis making clay animals at HWM

We like to use our clay outside on a tarpaulin or on our outdoor table as we currently don't have a dedicated art area, and really like working outdoors, but clay can work really well if you put a small amount in an airtight container (we use glasslock) and put on a tray on the child's art shelves, perhaps with a small board or placemat to protect the work surface. We also find it useful to have a small bowl of water nearby to help keep the clay moist or to help protect against cracks or to help join clay pieces.

Otis making clay animals at HWM

Extension ideas:

  • Use in story-telling or poem readings, child or adult led. 
  • Measure creations length, height or weight.
  • Provide regular time for working with clay so the child knows the can come back and add to their creations and it's not just a one time only experience, or leave on the child's art shelves for them to use as frequently as they like. 
  • Use to further develop individual research projects such as to build models.

Otis making clay animals at HWM

Clay can really help to develop critical thinking and problems solving skills, it can help strengthen hand and finger muscles in ways that other toys and materials can't. Clay is such a simple art material I think sometimes we need a reminder about how good it is!  Here are two other articles related to clay that I found really useful:

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