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How to build clay structures with young childrenEvery once in a while an art activity comes along that totally blows my mind and literally makes me high.  Building with clay logs and bits of nature is one of those activities.  If you have young children and want to introduce them to a great, open ended, easy to manipulate, engaging activity, please oh please try this.  Building with clay logs to create towers and other structures is great for fine motor development, decision making skills, building problem solvers and exploring imagination.   I often get asked how to work with clay and young children.  Clay can be challenging to  manipulate for little hands.  Clay logs are a perfect way to introduce clay to little ones.  I can’t say enough about this Reggio inspired activity.  Please leave a comment below if you give it a try.  I’d love to hear about your experience.

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How to build clay structures with young childrenFirst, you’ll need some clay.  I ordered this clay from Discount School Supply and we love it.  We have the red clay, as well as the natural gray clay you see here.  It comes in a 25 lb package, which will keep you in business for a loooong time, especially since clay is reusable, as long as you keep it in a sealed plastic bag.  We’ve had our red clay for over a year and it’s still going strong.  It will harden over time if kept exposed to the air or baked in a kiln.  Even though it’s a bit costly, it lasts for a really long time.  To me, it’s totally worth the investment and building clay towers is a great introduction to this medium.

How to build clay structures with young childrenOnce you have your clay, the first step is to make logs from the clay, maybe twenty or so and set them out in a grid like you see above.  You can take a ball of clay and just roll it in your palm to make a log.  I make them about 5 inches or so long.  Next, gather some things from nature and set them beside the logs on a tray.  We’ve used sticks, rocks, leaves and painted spin art rocks.

How to build clay structures with young childrenSometimes I start a small structure to gives the kids a place to start.  Some kids may need more encouragement than others.  Some will just dive in.  Some may want you to build with them.  It really depends on the child.  When working with clay I recommend you keep a bucket filled with water nearby, along with a towel.  Clay gets messy.  It’s nice to be able to wash your hands as you go, especially if you have a child that is sensitive about getting their hands dirty.

How to build clay structures with young childrenGigi, my oldest (3) dove right in.  She is definitely not sensitive about a mess.  She piled and poked and pushed and I stood in total awe.  The sticks were fantastic.  She learned to attach logs to each of the sticks and add leaves on top.  With every move she made, she became more excited and confident.  My heart beat out of my chest.  I had never seen her so engaged in this kind of clay before.  There were so many possibilities for her to explore.  At one point she took a big wood dowel and stuck it in the top, then found a log and pressed it down the dowel, sliding it towards the tower.    I was amazed at how the materials led to such great experimentation.

How to build clay structures with young childrenAnother time we had water bottles close by that the kids could squeeze on the clay, totally changing the consistency of the clay.  Some liked the slimy wet clay and some didn’t.

How to build clay structures with young childrenThe pic above is an octopus a 3 year old boy created.  The painted rocks are it’s suction cups.

How to build clay structures with young childrenBasically, I’ve been obsessed with this process ever since we started it.  I want to mix the red and gray clay next time and find other natural materials to combine in our building.  Once we have a structure we really like, I think we’ll let it dry and then paint it and maybe embellish it with special stones or gems.  There are a lot of possible layers here.  I just love it.  For more Reggio inspired process art, click here.  Hope you’re having a great summer and thanks for reading along!

How to build clay structures with young childrenYou might also like to download this ebook I contributed to with 25 other awesome art bloggers for kids.  It’s full of fantastic ideas to do with young children.

Three to Five Playful Preschool ebook for Kids