Connecting with Clay

By Lucy Parker

ClayAs we have recently celebrated Diwali, I’m wondering if some of you may have offered your children the opportunity to make a clay diva lamp? Clay often comes out for specific activities like this and can be an engaging experience. However, this is often the first time children have had any experience with clay. I sometimes think clay is a ‘forgotten’ resource. Like many resources in early years, such as wooden blocks and sand, clay has historical significance. Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852), the founder of the Kindergarten included materials like clay in his educational approach. It is Froebel we have to thank for wooden blocks, which are still a staple of the early years classroom, but clay does not have such high visibility.

Providing children with access to play and explore with clay gives them a rich and exciting learning opportunity and I would really recommend it becomes part of your continuous provision. As an open ended, natural material, it can be anything the child wants it to be. Clay provides children with opportunities to engage in imaginative play and the ability to transform the clay, through rolling and squeezing means ideas can be explored rapidly. As an open-ended natural material, it allows more complex, imaginative ideas to be represented. Adding other natural objects to clay, can support children’s creativity, such as stones, shells, sticks and buttons. In the photo on the right, sticks and fir cones are used to create a cake with candles.

ClayClay is unique, as it is malleable but when fired becomes a hard permanent object. Therefore, making a lasting object (like a diva lamp) can be engaging and exciting. However, before children make something tangible they need to have explored clay and found out what it can do. The exploratory stage can be exciting – try putting a whole bag of clay out to explore or adding lots of water.

Practitioners can begin to model skills as the children become more familiar with clay. The photo on the left shows a child who has independently made a series of pots, after having the method of making a pinch pot modelled to her.

Clay can also be used to develop and support children’s interests. Adding dinosaurs to the clay area, with natural objects provided these children with opportunity to make dinosaur habitats.

If you are thinking of developing clay provision in your setting, do look at the pamphlet from the Froebel Trust ( This also includes practical tips for setting up a clay table.

If you would like any more advice or would like some clay training for your setting, do get in touch –

Lucy Parker (Lucy is Deputy Head at Ludwick Nursery School and the Lead for Acorns Teaching School Alliance. She is a Froebel trained teacher and a trustee of The Froebel Trust)