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ceramics for kids

updated tue 30 apr 96


Vince Pitelka on thu 11 apr 96

Vicky -

I like the tone of the posts from Jan Walker and Valice. I wouldn't assign
overly methodical projects that stress following directions. Such projects
tend to stifle rather than encourage creativity. There are a variety of
projects that we have used very successfully which might be adaptable to your
needs. We don't have classes on Fridays, and so our workshop coordinator
brings in groups of elementary school kids to work in the various media. My
artist in residence or one of my students usually runs the show, and they have
a great time.

Project ideas? From two years of watching this process, first and foremost,
when a kid is absorbed in making ANYTHING out of clay, let him/her run with it,
regardless of the suggested project or assignment. I think that any project
should be "suggested." Some kids will be happy following directions, while
others will (and should) take off on their own. I like the idea of putting a
piece of clay in their hands before I open my mouth. In general I have found
that some pretty ambitious sounding ideas often lead to amazing results, even
with 5 to 8-year-olds and with a very short work period. Build a miniature
castle. Make pinch pots (at least show them the technique and let those
so-inclined go with it). Make a life-size mask (show slides of masks in the
room as the kids are working). Make a 6"-tall head, cut it in half behind the
ears (if there are any), hollow it out, join it back together. Make a clock
face with a hole in the center (If they wish they can get a clock motor and
hands from a hobby store, but the clock face must be thin and the hole must be
1/2" dia.) Make a 10"-tall dinosaur. Make tiles of the letters in your first
name. Make a space-ship. Make your mom and dad. Make a turtle. Make a car.
Make a crashed car. Make a big bug (I like Jack Troy's mud-covered
Volkswagen). Make a crocodile. Make a boat. Make a mess.

With kids under the age of eight we have had best luck with these kinds of
projects. All you need to show/tell them is some joining technique and the
"max.-thickness-one-inch, and no-trapped-air-spaces" rules. It helps to have
lots of pictures of appropriate things around, or slides projected on a screen
in the workroom. For kids over eight you can get into more elaborate pinch
vessels, coil construction, etc. We have used a simple palette of slips for
surface painting on the still-damp work. Other times we have used tempera
paints on the bisque-fired works, with less success. If you can afford it, I
suggest acrylic paints or commercial no-fire glazes/stains - something more
permanent than tempera. In some cases we have wiped the bottom of the
slip-decorated, bone dry piece across a wax-resist-soaked sponge, and then
dipped the pieces in a thin clear singlefire glaze, to intensify the colors and
strengthen the joints.

Overall, I suggest you try to stress discovery and fun. Let them reach out and
find some expression in clay that is significant to them. That is much more
important than having them conform to someone else's expectations. They spend
most of the rest of their time in school doing that.

Good luck, and please post about your experience.
- vince
Vince Pitelka -
Appalachian Center for Crafts - Tennessee Technological University
Smithville, TN