Clay Tools in the Classroom

“Sure, I’ll take it,” is something I find myself saying a lot in my daily life. As an art teacher at a public elementary school, I am good at many things, one of them being using what I have available, whether that is supplies my budget has afforded me, or the mounds of things that teachers and parents “donate” to my classroom.

When using clay in my classroom with my students, many of these donated or collected things come in handy, especially when funds are tight. Don’t have enough clay rollers? Use markers instead. If the caps stay on, they work great. Another thing that works well to roll out larger portions of clay are the cylindrical chip cans.

Want to add some texture to your pieces? Ball up some tin foil and press it into the clay. Most art classrooms have a stash of stamps. Press those into your pieces for added detail. One of my favorite ways to add texture to clay pieces in my classroom is to use my texture rubbing plates. While typically only used for rubbing textures onto paper with crayons, press some clay into them and watch what magic happens. Texture plates come in a variety of designs and sizes. You can even make them yourself with a little hot glue and cardboard.

I teach kindergarten through 5th grade and while we tend to not make the most complicated of clay projects, I still like to introduce them to the technique of joining two clay pieces together. Toothpicks are a big help when showing them how to score pieces. I have also been known to slide a toothpick into pieces that need a little extra support.

Another supply that is great for clay is pipe cleaners. So many useful ways to use them. As armatures for air dry pieces, as stands to finish pieces or as accessories. If you plan to add pipe cleaners to a finished piece, have the students decide where they will be and add them to their piece as they are working, then slip them out before baking your clay piece. Once the clay is baked and cooled, the student can slip the pipe cleaner back in place in the premade hole. Add a dab of glue to be sure it stays put. Students love adding crazy, pipe cleaner hair or other accessories to their pieces.

Painting your clay piece after baking it? Instead of just using a paintbrush, why not try using cotton swabs or sponges. One way I think is fun to paint is with marbles. If making trinket dishes, take a couple of marbles dipped in paint and roll them around the dish. You can even make it a game, see which student is the best at keeping the marbles in their dish.

You can find many things around the classroom and house to use to make marks in clay. Building bricks, popsicle sticks, bottle caps, marker lids, glue stick caps, ends of paintbrushes, plastic spoons and forks, the ideas are limitless. One of my favorite things about being an art teacher is that the creativity is endless. If I run out of ideas, I am surrounded by students who have their own and are willing share. Sometimes, just watch them experiment on their own and possibilities you never even thought of are born.

Written by Shawna Schmidt

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