Getting started with clay

Observation and curiousity

Children first develop a sense of form from within, through awareness of their own bodies and shapes. They develop awareness of form in the world around them through looking closely at natural and manufactured objects and noticing their inherent form.

Stones, bones, driftwood, shells, trees, roots, animals, birds, humans, clouds, hay-stacks, stones, mountains, toys and household objects are examples of these. Classroom displays of visually stimulating objects and, where appropriate, opportunities to observe objects, animals and figures in situ are very helpful.

Children should be encouraged to study an object from different points of view to see it in the round, and more experienced children could sketch it. The expressive response of younger children should be appreciated, rather than having them strive for exact representation. More keenly observed elements, such as the tilt of the head, the sway of the body or the curve of the back, may be interpreted by more experienced children.

Children should be encouraged to form their work and to understand the difference between this and simply drawing on its surface: for example, they should make the form of a head and the bumps and hollows on a face, rather than make a flat surface with lines to suggest features. They should be encouraged also to turn their pieces around as they work. Whirlers are very handy for this purpose, but the work can easily be turned around if it is built on a piece of plastic bag.

Solid forms without delicate projections are very robust and focus attention on form itself. The children will want to make all sorts of animals, creatures and cars, but sometimes it is a good idea for them to make a simple abstract form that feels good in the hand. They could experiment with relating two or more such forms to each other, for example by balancing one form on another.