Monday, May 19, 2014

In the Art Room: Kindergarten Clay Butterflies

Ya'll. I got this genius idea about a month and a half ago that all 400+ of my students should be working with clay. At the same time. And while this made for easy set up/clean up (read: We're 5 minutes late, ya'll -- Stop, Drop and Get Out! The next class is using the same thing!), all that clay left my room covered in a lovely layer of dust. Which, if you are an art teacher then you know, means two things:

1. The kids will figure skate across your dust-covered floor much to your pretend dismay (because, let's face it, you do the same thing when they're not in the room).

2. The kids will leave a path of dust covered foot prints leading a slightly disgruntled custodian to your door (ha, I totally kid as I have the most understanding custodial buddies around). 
Despite the dust-bowl-esque appearance of the art room, I love teaching clay as much as the kids do working with it. Seeing what creations they come up with is always so much fun. Howevers, with the wee ones in kindergarten-town, I like to start with the basics of hand building construction (slab, coil, sphere) in a pretty structured way.

Which leads me to this here Clay Butterfly project. If you're new to teaching clay or you simply need a quick project that teaches the basics of clay construction in a fool-proof-ish kind of way then this big bad butterfly is the thing for you. Here's what you'll need:
  • Low Fire Clay (I use cone 06)
  • No kiln to fire the clay? No worries. Try this out with air dry clay or Sculptey, available at craft stores.
  • Skewer
  • Toothbrush and cup of water
  • Texture for the butterfly. We use a lot of lace, doilies and placemats in my art room.
  • A butterfly template, optional
  • Crayons
  • Watercolor paint
 When I introduce clay, I have the kids gather around a table and do a demo from start to finish. Then I run through the entire thing again, this time having them repeat the directions after me. I thought I'd share with ya'll the start-to-finish routine...but don't worry, I won't make you repeat it back.

On auto-repeat, I tell the kids: You can make ANYTHING outta clay as long as you can make a Slab, a Coil and Sphere. With those three things, anything is possible. First, I have 'em make a slab.

1. Begin by squishing the clay as hard as you can between your two hands. Then thump it down onto your textured surface (this thumping-down business is always a hit, no matter what the age) and begin pounding the daylights outta that clay. Now, you're gonna have to remind the kids that the goal is not to punch they clay too much, it's not your brother after all. The end result should be a clay that is a consistent cookie thickness.
 Sometimes you can pound and pound that clay and it just won't get wide enough. So I tell the kids to pound their clay at a diagonal to help the clay stretch and become the desired width.
 The end result should have the texture of your pounding and be consistently cookie thick.
 2. Peal that clay off of your texture like a Fruit Roll-Up. I have to tell the kids that otherwise they'll simply dig at it with their fingernails. If you show them how to pull the clay and the texture away from each other, it's much easier. Also, isn't that texture rad? Clay is so receptive to texture that I'm always showing kids ways to incorporate that into their clay piece. Lace is my personal fave.
3. Once the clay has been pealed off of the texture, have the kids trace a butterfly template (not shown, duh). Or, if you are a Template Hater, don't. I use templates for this activity as the focus is on working with clay. If I can remove the frustration of drawing and redrawing a butterfly onto clay, them Ima gonna do it. When the kids cut into the clay, show them how to properly use that skewer stick. It should stand up vertically, like a solider. If the kids hold it like a pencil, they either just saw through the clay (leaving behind a chewed up looking edge) or don't cut all the way through. 
3. Smooth out those clay boogers. I know those rough edges aren't sharp now...but just you wait until you run your hand over that bad boy after a good bisque firing (that's a first fire for you first timers). I've sliced my hand up on such a surface. I always emphasize running a finger over the edges to smooth 'em.
4. Once they've gotten that slab butterfly body made, I teach 'em how to make a coil. For them, that's old hat. That's like the very first thing all kids make outta clay: a snake! Using my extra clay, I roll out a coil that is as long as the center of the butterfly. If I make it too long, I cut it to size with my skewer.

5. Now, I don't use a scoring tool, I use a toothbrush. I do use the terminology "slip and score" and explain to them that it's the glue that binds it all together. Without it, your clay project is sure to fall apart and you'll be so super sad. Don't let it happen to you.

 6. Stick that coil to the slab. In my demos, we chatted for a hot minute about the three parts of the butterflies body and used our pinching fingers to create them.
 7. Using spheres, we created eyes for our butterfly. Again, we toothbrushes because we didn't want our eyes to fall off. It totes sucks when that happens. Eyelashes (because all butterflies have 'em, right?) and mouthes were added along with anything else the kinderkiddos might imagine.
8.  When they brought their finished pieces to me, I wrote their names on the back and stuck two holes in the head for antennae and a hole in each wing for hanging. You might not want to do this in front of the children, especially if you fail to tell 'em what you're doing as stabbing their clay project proves to be a traumatic experience for some...not that I've ever done it or anything. Ahem.
Now, bisque or first firing these guys was cake because I could just stack 'em up on my kiln shelves. But I knew that glaze firing would involve many rounds of loading and unloading the kiln because of the flat and wide nature of the pieces (in case I'm not speaking your language: you cannot stack glazed pieces in the kiln as they'll stick together once fired). If you recall from earlier in this here post I mentioned that EVERYONE in the UNIVERSE was making something out of clay so glaze firing all of these really would have slowed my firing to a snail's pace. Therefore, I knew I had to find a glazing alternative.
I gave the kids watercolor paint and we had a chat about crayon resist. It helped that we'd dabbled in this in a previous lesson so the kids kinda got the concept. I told 'em that bright colors worked the best and that coloring super hard was the key to making this work. I likened it to putting a raincoat on the butterfly so that when it got wet with the paint, the paint would roll right off the rain coat. We also chatted about the symmetrical nature of a butterfly's design which inspired some kids. For others, they either weren't interested in that or their texture pattern made it too difficult to create a symmetrical design.
Once the crayon coloring business was through, the kids were free to paint. I asked them to pick one color (my friend above chose not to but the end result is lovely) and really like really had to stress painting away the white spots. The key is to have a moppy wet brush and to paint slow enough for the paint to sink into the crevices. Once complete, I slapped some ModPodge on 'em and my fourth grade morning helpers added the hanger. I added a dot of hot glue inside each opening at the top, inserted the antennae and, viola! Kindergarten Clay Butterfly!

What are some of your fave kindergarten clay projects? I'd love to hear, ya'll!


  1. These look great! One of my new favourite projects that I did for the first time last year, was textured pendants with the texture taken from the bottom of kids' shoes. I don't have access to a kiln so I used homemade model magic instead of clay. I really like how your crayon resist and watercolour alternative to glazing shows off the texture of the butterflies, and will definately be trying it out with my students.

    1. Oh, I had a kid try out that bottom of the shoe texture this year! A had a student who wanted a "brick wall" for her clay dragon but was having a hard time making one...she just so happened to have the most perfect pattern of brick on the bottom of her shoe! She thought I was crazy when I told her to smash the clay into her shoe -- so much fun! Thanks for dropping by :)

  2. Cassie this is great. I used to use clay a lot and always started with pinch pots. Since I became a "real" art teacher I havent used clay since I don't have access to a kiln so I'm really glad to see this very thorough post/ I really like the idea of using mod podge since it probably gives the same effect as fired clay. right?

    1. The ModPodge did a good job of brightening up the colors and giving the butterflies a little shine. You'll have to keep me posted it you try this out with a clay alternative!

  3. Love these! Totally stealing for 1st grade next year. In the past my kinders have made clay bears using spheres, coils, and slabs, but this year we made these amazing roses that turned out great. I've used the resist technique on my 1st graders slab owls using oil pastels and watered down black tempera paint. You've probably seen these on my facebook page.

    1. I remember you mentioning the oil pastels on FB! I'll have to try that out...I just happened to have a MILLION crayons I've been trying to go through so that worked. Did the tempera paint work as well coming off? It didn't cover up the image? I'll have to try that next time!

    2. Water down the tempera and then rinse off the excess in the sink. I got so many ooohs and ahhs when I demonstrated the washing off of the tempera. I have four sinks so it goes pretty fast.

  4. Oh yes! We have 12 days of school left and 3rd grade still has done colored their ceramic pieces. Doing this. Thank you! Not. Freaking. Out.

    1. Don't freak out! What's done is done, what's not is snot. That's always my end-of-the-year motto!

  5. These are brilliant!

    1. Thank you, I'll let the kiddos know you said so!

  6. quite fab, lady! the texture, the colors, the sliding on the floor;) heck, i do it in front of em and tell em do what i say and not what i do, because you know, i'm a professional clay dust skater and i've had years of practice.

    1. Haha, I'll have to remember that one! We need to be in the Art Teacher Clay Dust Ice Skating Olympics, dude!

  7. Just a hint for the traveling clay dust. I always teach my clay unit to all grades at the same time so there is less set-up take down and the mess is centralized to about 3 weeks. My custodian is the best and supplies me with one of those entry rugs right inside my classroom door for the duration of the wet clay/dust process. As kids leave, they scuff across the rug to clean the bottoms of their shoes. Keeps the tracked out dust to a real minimum and make for a truly content custodian. : )
    I'll be posting pics of my Kinders "Texture Necklaces" that we do with a similar method, soon! I like the idea of the butterflies but think I will add that one to my texture and slab unit for 3rd grade next year.

    Kim @ Art on my Hands

    1. Um, rug idea? GENIUS. So doing that next school year, thank you!

  8. Jen Conroow4/09/2015

    Love these! I am going to do them with my 1st graders next week :)
    Instead of rolling a texture on, though, I am going to discuss symmetry and have them draw symmetrical designs/patterns on the wings. Can't wait to try it out!
    - Jen (Webster, NY)

  9. Fanastic and creative clay work.


Thank you so much for your comments. I appreciate each and every one :)