I think many times when it comes to material introduction, we jump to the “create and make stage” yet forget the explore stage. Yes! The magic and wonder of the explore stage is crucial!
The language of clay! It’s different from playdough. Clay comes from the earth. The cold, messy, earthy aroma activates all the senses.You can manipulate it by adding water and return to a creation day after day by having the child cover their piece with a wet paper towel.
What are you making? That seems to be a consistent first question we always ask. But, what if we kept the wonder alive in our children and think about the relationship with clay or any other material?
Exploration Questions Starters:
- What do you notice about the clay?
- I wonder how it feels?
- How can you get it off the big block?
- I wonder how we can stick the pieces together?
- What happens when you add water?
- Tell me about how it smells…feels…sounds…even tastes!
Actions we observe in this stage
1. Finger and Hand Play
This stage is all about exploring the tactile qualities of clay. Children use their fingers and hands to squeeze, pinch, poke, and prod the clay, discovering its texture and malleability. This stage helps children develop fine motor skills and spatial awareness, as well as an appreciation for the material itself.
Piling clay into different shapes and forms is a fun way for children to experiment with balance and stability. This stage also encourages children to think creatively about how they can use different forms and shapes to create interesting compositions and designs. The simple task of piling turns into building tall and problem-solving to make it stay.
An avenue to use force!. Fabulous way to let the need be met. Pounding clay with hands or tools helps children develop gross motor skills and strength. This stage is all about exploring the physical properties of clay and experimenting with different forms of manipulation. Children may also enjoy making imprints or marks on the clay using their fists or other objects.
Cutting clay with tools or utensils introduces children to basic shapes and patterns, as well as the concept of division and subtraction. It’s also an amazing exercise to develop fine motor skills and build those muscles for writing. This stage encourages children to think creatively about how they can transform a solid block of clay into something new and interesting.
Rolling clay into balls or ropes is a natural progression from finger and hand play. Children learn to apply pressure and control their movements to create different shapes and sizes. This stage can also involve experimenting with different tools, such as rolling pins and cardboard tubes or textured objects like cans, and wooden dowels, to create unique patterns and textures.
Addition of Loose Parts
Adding loose parts, such as sticks, stones, or buttons, to clay can be a fun way for children to experiment with texture and dimensionality. A simple jam jar lid can provide a vast extension to the explore stage in clay. This stage encourages children to think outside the box and use their imaginations to create unique and interesting sculptures.
Benefits of Exploring Clay
- Working with clay engages all the senses giving children the sensory experiences they so desperately need;
- Develops their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and spatial awareness;
- Opportunities for storytelling and to develop language and communication skills, as well as promote cognitive development;
- Experimenting with different shapes, sizes, and forms of clay can help children develop problem-solving skills;
- Builds a child’s ability to focus and concentrate as children work to mold and shape it into their desired form;
- Ignites the children’s curiousity about the natural world, the properties of different materials and how they interact with each other;
- Allows for a natural progression in their developmental stages with materials;
- Manipulating clay can be a calming and relaxing activity;
- Clay can be a powerful tool for self-expression, allowing children to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and ideas in a nonverbal way;
- Understanding of basic scientific concepts, such as texture, shape, and form;
- Working with clay can be a social activity, providing opportunities for children to share their ideas, collaborate, and learn from one another.
And so much more!
Let’s foster the explore stage with materials in our classrooms!
Let them linger and wonder a bit longer.
Bartel, Marvin (2006) Clay for Toddlers and Preschoolers – How and Why
Pacini-Ketchabaw, Veronica, Kind, Syliva, Kocher, Laurie LM (2017) Encounters with Materials in Early Childhood Education, Routledge, New York.
Topal, Cathy Weisman (1998) Children, Clay, And Sculpture, Davis.
You might also be interested to read our blog post about the exploration stage of paint.