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programs in schools, there has b een a great deal of research about the importance of art in child development. F rom my own experience as an artist and ceramic teacher, I believe that few art m ediums kindle growth and skills in children in the way that clay does. At Lakesi de Pottery Ceramic School and Studio in Stamford CT, I have taught children (age s 6 to 15) for the last six years. During that time, I have witnessed firsthand how invaluable the experience of working with clay is for sensory development, m otor skills, self esteem, and self expression, problem solving skills, disciplin e, and pride. Clay also has a uniquely therapeutic quality that I have seen sett le and calm children; it retains their attention for hours. Sensory Development and Motor Skills There is no better moment for me than witnessing a child’s joy as they sit at th e potter’s wheel for the first time and place their wet hands on slowly spinning clay! Clay, and its necessity to be touched, is at once familiar to children. T he sensory experiences they encounter in our pottery studio are numerous and as they experience the texture and feel of the clay the students express what they are sensing with uninhibited enthusiasm; “It’s cold, it’s wet and squishy, and i t’s so heavy!” Clay asks to be poked, pinched, twisted and rolled and as they ha ndle it, children develop both fine and major motor skills and realize that they have an effect on the clay as it responds to their manipulation. Children visua lly inspect the clay’s surface and color, they smell it and they laugh at the so unds it makes when it’s wet. For many, it’s perhaps the first time they’ve been encouraged to get wet and dirty in a classroom environment and there is an insti nctive and uplifting response to the freedom they feel. Even when the finished p roduct is ready to take home, the children hold and cradle their work, smoothing their fingers over the now colorfully glazed surface as they turn it around and around for inspection. Esteem and Expression From my experience as an art teacher, I believe that clay is a unique art medium because it is highly responsive to touch and very forgiving. As soon as childre n are given clay, they immediately begin to mold and shape it. They become aware that they are in charge and have influence over the medium as it is quick to re spond to their fingers. The feeling that they are in command of the clay gives t he students the confidence to attempt any project which opens the door to greate r self expression and imagination. Clay also allows a child to learn to repair m istakes and therefore not be afraid to make them. Making mistakes is essential f or self improvement but can be difficult and even an obstacle for some children. The forgiving quality of clay, and therefore the ability to readily fix mistake s, gives the child a sense of control over their project’s success which improve s self esteem and self expression as they realize that mistakes aren’t going to stop their progress. For example, during a class, a boy had been working on his project, a toothbrush holder that looked like a baseball player, for over two ho urs. All of a sudden he accidentally pierced a hole right through the side of th e project while decorating. He looked up at us devastated. But as I showed him h ow to take a piece of clay and fill in the damaged area, he suddenly took the cl ay from my hand and stated, “I can do it myself!” He repaired his piece and went on decorating with fervor. Problem Solving
Clay is different from other art mediums in that it requires an understanding of the three dimensional world. In our programs, we often encourage the children t o work on spinning decorating wheels or to get up from their seats and walk to t he other side of the table so they can see their creation from all sides. They b egin to understand shape, form, and perspective, and therefore get a first lesso n in geometry. The child learns to really look and see the world around them and discovers their place in that world. They gain knowledge of planning methods an d problem solving as they map out their three dimensional project. Where should the door go on my square castle? How tall can I make the tree before it gets uns teady? Should my dog’s tail go out straight or curl up over his head? If my rabb it’s head is too big for its body will it fall over? We encourage the children t o think on their own and help with the planning experience. For example, when we make a cylinder we start with a flat rectangular piece of slab clay which the s tudents decorate and design as it lies on the table. As they are working we ask them how we could use this flat rectangle to make a standing vase. It’s wonderfu l to see them understand how to roll it into a cylinder and we always have a few children who forecast the next step by saying, “We need a bottom!” Discipline "While there are rules and procedures that need to be followed when working with clay, I find that children are very good about understanding guidelines and res pecting procedures. Through this understanding they learn something that is very important: discipline yields success. The methods I teach are simple, (e.g. don ’t allow a piece of clay to be too thick, or a skinny tail should be connected t o the body for support). I explain why the techniques are important (if the clay is too thick it won’t dry properly or if the tail is too skinny and doesn’t con nect to the body it might break off because it is too weak) and the children gra sp the concepts easily learning basic physics. The most important rule is “slipp ing and scoring.” This is used anytime two pieces of clay are joined together an d if it’s overlooked, pieces may fall off or crack during the firing process. I’ ll often hear one child remind another to “slip and score,” and they like to cal l out the rule as I am giving instructions. I give the children adult pottery to ols to work with and they understand the responsibility they are being given and are careful. Throughout the entire period of using specific techniques and real tools, they are conscientious and thorough as they follow the process step by s tep. I am always thrilled when they remind me of other rules they have learned, such as when they say “Patty, don’t forget to poke a hole in my cat’s head, it’s hollow and the air needs to get out or it will crack!” Calming Effect Our children’s after school programs are two hours long and our summer camp clas ses run for three hours. I have many parents who express concern that their chil d might not be able to stay on task for that long, however the opposite is alway s true. While I have worked with students in other art mediums, something magica l happens when children work with clay. Whether it is the sensory response to th e clay, the ability to be in charge of the medium or, perhaps, the ability to ex press and articulate their emotions through their physical prodding or smoothing of the clay, all children, even those with high activity levels, become engaged and engrossed in their work. The class of twelve children is composed and quiet and the hours melt away. The children don’t experience frustration or disappoin tment because the clay is flexible and compliant. While I am unaware of research in this area I can attest to the calming and healing results as I have seen the m at the studio time and again. Pride and Self Worth At Lakeside Pottery, we all teach ceramics with the philosophy that the process is more important than the product. I place emphasis on the discovery and joy of
creating, however, there is an excitement for children as they make their mug o r pencil holder and announce that it’s for their grandmother’s coffee or for the ir dad’s desk. The functional and durable nature of the finished stoneware clay gives children a feeling of significance and pride. I will often give the studen ts the option of putting glass chips in the bottom of their bowls or plates as p art of the glazing process. When I explain that though it is beautiful, it might make the piece not safe for food, many children say no to the glass because it is important for their bowl to be used as a center piece at their table. All for ms of art are important for children to experience, yet it does seem that the lo ng-lasting nature of the children’s finished clay piece adds a special value for them. We often ask parents what artistic creation their mother has kept on her shelf for years, and they all answer that it is the pottery they made in grade s chool. It is always fulfilling for me to introduce clay to children and watch its uniqu e qualities contribute to their development in so many ways. Knowing how valuabl e clay is to children’s achievements and because it is discouraging to see limit s put on our children’s school art programs, Lakeside Pottery has helped schools start clay curriculums; we’ve trained teachers to work with clay, assisted in p urchasing and setting up equipment, and helped plan and design school studios. W e have shared the clay experience both in outreach programs in schools and child ren’s workshops within out studio with the belief that clay is an essential elem ent for nurturing children s growth. Lakeside Pottery Ceramic School and Studio 543 Newfield Avenue Stamford, CT 06905 203-323-2222 www.lakesidepottery.com COPYRIGHT Lakeside Pottery LLC