Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Plop Your Way to Amazing Clay Play!

I am honored to follow the lead of children. I used to be a planner, and had children follow my lead....but every time I would let go of that lead, ever so slightly, amazing ideas would transpire. Finally, after years and years of transitioning, I have truly accepted my role as a follower. I have found a happy place where I can still do a little planning and then I follow. I call this plopping. I plan a plop, then follow where the children take it.

My planned plop to get the week started? Natural clay. I bought it at Michael's Craft store..it comes in a plain white box and runs about $7.00, but I used a 50% off coupon and got it for the lovely cost of $3.50.  I'm not talking about Crayola clay, or any other name brand -- this is just "boring" old gray natural clay. This stuff is heavy...so be warned before you pick up the box, the box is not all that large, I was shocked by how heavy it was. 

I plopped the chunk of clay in a large tub with a smidgen of water in the bottom just to keep it moist. I also added the ice cream scoops (these things are great for EVERYTHING...I found mine at the Dollar Tree), and about 50 sea creature beads in the tub as well. Off to the side, I had a fairly good sized bucket of warm water for washing hands.

Instantly, there was a curious group gathering around the picnic table. The usual question "what is this?" was asked, and I explained and encouraged them to feel it.I commented on how soft and smooth it felt. I then took a piece of plastic lacing and sliced the clay into about 3 large chunks. (use about 1 1/2 feet of plastic lacing and hold it like you are ready to floss your teeth. Using a sawing motion, cut through the clay, flipping it over half way through.)

Within seconds, there was a "turtle island" created and slides with water and fish beads enjoying a slick ride. The stories they were telling were priceless and the sharing and cooperation that was going on was very impressive.

It didn't take too terribly long for another discovery to be made. Hands covered in clay, outside on a hot, windy day will dry rather quickly. Dry clay on your hands makes you feel like you are a monster!! It is hard to move your hands too! Then, when you put your monster hands in the warm water, they instantly feel soft again. This was done again, and again and again.

The very last discovery made with the clay was the joy of creating holes in it. Ty and Cole were so proud of the holes they had worked very hard to drill with their thumbs. Ty was so proud as he yelled across the yard "Hey Nita! Look! We made volcanoes!"  As I came across to see, I knew exactly what I would "plop" out there next. Colored vinegar, baking soda and pipettes would add an entirelyl new level of discovery!

Colored vinegar, pipettes, baking soda and a spoon

The very beginning of the volcano fun

The "volcanoes" with baking soda in them awaiting the colored vinegar!


Awesome for eye-hand coordination and strengthening
 those oh-so-important muscles needed for writing!

I cannot begin to tell you how exciting it was to create volcanoes and watch the pretend lava flow. The colors were gorgeous against the drab gray clay. Since it was so incredibly windy out, I scooped the baking soda into the holes, but they did the drilling, and the vinegar themselves. 

Having explored baking soda and vinegar in her hand before,
and knowing how cool it felt, Ella wanted to try it again

When the clay was so full of baking soda and vinegar,
 I dumped it out and rinsed it all with water.
We then smoothed it out and started all over again!

Recall how all this learning began? A simple plan: plop clay in tub and step back. The results: a morning so filled with learning it was simply awe inspiring!

Here's a closer look at the learning the children led themselves to:
Literacy:  vocabulary, story telling, spatial awareness (necessary for letter recognition),and pre-writing (the clay is very hard to manipulate, it requires great large and small muscle strength and coordination).
Math: one-to-one coorespondence (at one point, a group was making homes for each fish, carefully placing one fish into each home), counting, measuring
Social Skills: taking turns, sharing, cooperating to achieve a similar goal

I invite you to go and buy some natural clay and plop it. Here's the catch...do not set up what my group discovered. Please, step back and let your children explore and make their own discoveries!!  THEN....share what happens in the comments below!!  I would love to hear what direction your crew took the clay!

Miscellaneous Tidbits:

1) a bucket of plain, warm water will wash away the clay from hands with ease
2) if you end up using baking soda and vinegar with the clay, rinse it off and cover the remaining clay with plastic to be played with again
3) Add lots of water to make a clay paint....next time I an planning on  plopping a pitcher of water and paint brushes with the clay -- we will also be wearing swimming suits and the sprinkler will be on....I'll let you know how it turns out!!  I'm anticipating some monsterous fun!!