{Toddler Explorations} Clay Play

For months, I've had the intention of buying a big block of clay for Silas to explore, inspired by this post and prior to that this book. I loved the idea of introducing this unique sensory experience; my hesitation came from the fact that in the Waldorf tradition the introduction of clay is delayed until the child is nine-years-old. This is because in the first stage of development (the first six years of life) maintaining warmth within the child is given great importance and working with cool, damp clay pulls warmth from the body. Ultimately, I decided to introduce clay in the hot months of summer so that he could benefit from the sensory experience while this cooling effect would be minimized.

I cut him a slab that was a couple inches thick, placing it on an over-sized cutting board along with a selection of bamboo kitchen utensils (forks, knives, and chopsticks), a wet sponge, and a collection of wooden massage tools that I've been gathering from thrift stores for this purpose. 

He was a little hesitant to begin; not quite sure what to make of this mass of gray.

He started by taking all the tools and either setting them on top of the slab, or pressing them into it.

Then he did lots of poking and some scraping, making deep holes in the clay and then dragging the tool through it.

He made some balls and asked me to do the same, along with some coils. He pressed them flat with the end of the cylinder tool. 

He made some snakes, which he also pressed flat.

And he spent a lot of time picking the clay off of his fingers and the tools, noticing the way that the clay hardened and dried. I tried to keep my talking to a minimum so that he could spend this first session in free exploration. We'll come back to this exploration often, I'm sure.

These three books (especially the first two titles) are wonderful for guidance:

Poking, Pinching & Pretending: Documenting Toddlers' Explorations with Clay by Dee Smith & Jeanne Goldhaber -- This is a detailed account of how one group of teachers set up a series of Reggio-inspired invitations to clay for toddlers and infants. Very inspirational and a great example of how to focus on process and exploration (this book and the one that follows are included on my recommended reading list, here).

The Language of Art by Ann Pelo -- There is a full chapter on the open-ended introduction of clay to children as well as how to extend their interest.

Exploring Clay with Children by Chris Utley and Mal Magson -- This is a great resource, especially for those who have no (or very little) experience working with clay. All the basics are covered as well as a selection of really great project ideas. The projects are more product, rather than process oriented, so it may be better for an older elementary-aged child.


  1. Oh my goodness. I just bought a 10 lb box of clay and my girls have been exploring it like crazy for the past few days.

    I LOVE clay. It is COMPLETELY different from other modelling mediums.

    Thanks for sharing... such lovely pictures of exploring.

  2. My daughter is a little bit older (she turned 6 last week). We also experimented with clay for the first time. Check out the resulting polymer clay food tutorial that we created as a result. http://craftasdesired.com/portfolio/polymer-clay-miniature-food/. Thanks for your post.