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Favorite Lessons With Little Guys

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I teach art, grades k-8 and each class does a clay residency. 

What are some of the most successful clay projects you've done with young children? I love making pinch-animals with kindergartners. They always turn out so cute. I'm making pinch pot piggy banks with my junior high students and am excited to see how those turn out.

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I made bookends with 8-10 year olds. The made a "something" to put onto the baseplate and upright. It was great coz they needed to join two slabs and pinch/roll/coil the bit to hold the slabs apart and weigh down the bookend. When they'd finished we lined them all up and looked at the variety. Everyone was different, even before glazing.

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I did the animal thing with K while student teaching(I had a career in H.S.). I followed up the glazing with a paper project of wheeled animal cages, and all of the pieces went on display in the hall showcase with carnival trappings. Great with all of the kids. So many older ones wanted to know why they didn't do it. It did take a while, but well worth it. The animals went happily home in their cages after parent night.


Older kids(4th to 6th) did recipe boxes, decoration and lettering was important, as were a nice fitting lid cut. Some classes opted for the other option, dresser boxes, and bath bead boxes for in bathrooms.

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I teach k-5 and we do a month long clay unit.  I've tried to design it so the skills build on each other.   It goes:


k - pinch pot with stamped decoration, modeled bird (skills - pinch, coil and strong attachments)

1st - coil pot - un smoothed, modeled pair of human figures connected (usually self portrait with parent, but kid gets to choose) skills - attaching, coiling

2nd - textured slab fish dish shaped over a drape mold with attached feet, modeled dinosaur.  skills - slab rolling, attaching and modeling - dino has classroom science connection

3rd - cube shaped lidded slab box with animal part attachments - skills: slab rolling and building, modeling and attaching

4th - anasazi inspired coiled pot - smoothed and burnished with black fine line decoration - skills:  coiling and smoothing, connection to history

5th - choice:  slab built Victorian inspired house (springs from earlier study of Victorian architecture) or slab built vehicle (car, snowmachine, tractor etc.)  skills - slab building with attachments


If I were doing middle school again I'd bump back to pinch pots at sixth grade and do that whistle project from two joined pots.  

At seventh I'd do a "burrito vase" slab pot with an exaggerated silly portrait on it.  (Maybe silly self portrait?  sculpting and proportion)

Eighth would do a slab/coil combo of some sort with an introduction to wheel work if possible. 


I try to show lots of images of contemporary and historical claywork to help kids realize the continuum they are participating in.


Other great projects I slip in when there's time are textured pendents from shoe bottoms (good K-3 and moms LOVE them.)

Textured wall pots - these can be simple cones or two pieces

And spoon holders.  Gingerbread men were the community favorites for years.  I was at a friend's house the other day - her son is now the owner of a thriving landscaping business, but - yep.  There was his gingerbread spoonholder from second grade on her counter!  

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Omg, guys...I totally didn't even think about my niece and nephew. Journey is five and Carter is nine--the next time I babysit, I'm bringing over some clay! ^_^ Kids love to play in the mud, and it'll keep Carter off that dang Xbox. Anyone can make pinch pots! :) I have lots of cookie cutters, too. YES. Great thread! ♥

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cookie cutters are too easy.  they will make hundreds of them.  if you must, use animal shapes and make two of each.  stick them together and spread the feet so the animal can stand up.  smooth the edges so it becomes one animal, not two cookies stuck together.  give the animal some attitude.


make cookie cutters in your own shapes by squeezing circles into simple shapes, fish or bird.  cut 2 birds and join them after thinning and using slip to attach them to each other with folded tissue inside so they are rounded out like real birds, add odd shaped tails that will allow the bird to sit. poke a hole in the bottom and after firing stick a wire into the bottom and stand it in a flowerpot.


curve the fish in lots of directions after finding a way to press scales into the sides.  a simple bowl shaped fish becomes a soap dish. the inventions they come up with are fun to watch.  they learn a lot if you have odd bits of hardware, or plastic ice cream spoons, (the kind the store uses for samples). testing the impressions made by screws, or wires and kitchen tools will keep them thinking.  zebras are more fun than horses, fork lines work for stripes.


add feet to duck shapes and make them outrageous.    try putting a small round balloon inside a pig (which cannot be done but it gives them something to think about and an  AHA ! moment when they learn to put a thin slab around a small balloon and add pig feet, nose and ears.  they will have fun making a tiny spiral tail..  the balloon trick is a favorite of the middle school teacher in Berryville, va. the kids are so busy thinking of how it will work and trying to find some extra fingers to handle the whole slippery thing that the room gets QUIET!  imagine that.


looking at a whole herd, flock, bunch, or gang of tennis ball sized pigs glazed in unpig colors is a laugh for everyone.


it is easier to just bisque kids' pots and let them take them home to paint with acrylics.  less chance for failures, shorter finishing time, etc.  no whining "it didn't come out the way i wanted".

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