Creative beginnings for tiny tots

Posts tagged ‘clay’


The most powerful tactic…to awaken the curiosity of a child…is simply to head for the hands.
– Frank Wilson (1998)


I’ve gotta HAND it to him…

…the kid knows what he needs to turn a blah afternoon into a great one.

After last weekend’s satisfying foray with clay, this weekend, my nine year old requested another sculptural medium that I just happened to have on hand as well…an industrial sized roll of plaster wrap cloth (like they used to use for plaster casts when you broke a bone in the old days, when I was a kid).

He independently set about cutting the plaster wrap into one-inch strips, then decided he wanted to wrap a clay bowl that we made last weekend with it.  He thoroughly enjoyed the process of dipping the strips in water and smoothing them around the solid piece of clay.

Next, he surprised me by asking to make a cast of MY hand.  In my many years as an art therapist, I spent many a session painstakingly and gingerly applying these plaster strips to my students, most often creating face masks, occasionally covering their hands in various positions.  It was always considered a great moment in the therapeutic relationship, when a client felt safe and trusting enough to allow for this kind of interaction.  And for some of the kids with whom I worked who had experienced all kinds of deprivation or abuse, this kind of nurturing, gentle attention filled a very basic need.  After all those years as a therapist, and now all my years as a mom, it was novel and welcome to be on the receiving end of this process!

For just a little while, my boy was in charge and in control, but at the same time so gentle and careful as he meticulously (and I should mention that meticulous is not a word I would use to describe his approach to most tasks) formed the strips of plaster around my hand.  I felt taken care of, kind of like having a spa treatment, and was delighted that he was intent on adding several layers to make sure it was nice and sturdy.

Feeling full mastery over this process now, he then embarked on his final project for the day, a cast of his own foot.  Without any supervision from me (I went in the house to clean up), he completed this piece from start to finish and was thoroughly impressed with the results.  He added, “It felt warm and cold and soooo soothing.”  I hope that in the near future he will let me make a mask of his face…or perhaps he’ll offer to make a mask of mine!

I wonder if he’ll be interested in decorating these….with paint, collage, or by gluing other objects or materials to them.  For now, his interest seems to be more in the process of building the casts themselves, whether from clay or plaster, than in turning them into something decorative or expressive.  I believe he engages in these types of projects to fulfill a sensory need.

He has always been a sensory guy.  See?



Process Focused Art – NOT Just for Toddlers

Yesterday was one of those Saturdays.  My nine year old was bored, so his inclination was to flip-flop from computer to tv and back again.  Enter parental intervention:  imposed outside time (which was only moderately successful due to bad allergies) and a no more screen time for the rest of the afternoon! policy, which as you can imagine, was met with a less than enthusiastic response.  It wasn’t pretty, and I came darn close to caving in the face of the relentless “but there’s nothing to do” protests. Then, out of the blue, a beautiful thing happened.  He asked “Do we have any clay?”  which was just about the best question a kid could ask this particular mama at this particular moment.  And yes, yes I did happen to have a 25 lb. bag of it laying around, just waiting to be summoned…

What transpired during the next hour or so was a lovely combination of contented “play” with the clay–rolling, cutting, shaping, forming, moistening, squishing, smoothing, slicing, dicing, destroying, rebuilding, etc., etc.  There was independent exploration, as well as genuine mother-son bonding, as he asked me to form the clay around his hand and forearm, and we experienced the physical connection involved in this process, a soothing sensory experience for both of us.

So, to the point of this post:

Often times, children’s interest in art materials is sensory, kinesthetic, and expressive, which is counter to the adult notion of art as primarily an asthetic pursuit.  And this inclination persists beyond early childhood (where we typically hear talk about the imperative for process over product focused art).  Especially in our achievement-driven culture, children need opportunities to just “be” with materials and not feel the need to perform to a certain standard or outcome.  Time and again, I have seen this play out in my classes for toddlers, when an older sibling tags along for a visit to the class.  Often they are the most enthusiastic participants in our process-oriented art projects, revelling in the opportunity to finger paint, or slosh liquid watercolors, or delve up to their elbows in the sensory media tray.  This “hunger” for these types of activities tells us that they probably are not getting enough of this sort of thing in their daily lives.  And some children need this sort of thing more than others.

So next time your school aged child is eager to “mess around” with materials, don’t be too quick to ask “What are you going to make?”  And don’t get caught up in whether what they are doing looks particularly attractive.  They may just need a chance to roll up their sleeves and play without any particular end result in mind.  You may find, as I did yesterday, that time to explore and get messy can completely turn around your child’s mood and the tone for the rest of the day!

P.S.  You might consider giving it a try yourself too!