sticks and match sticks stuck into a clay mound as part of an EYFS creativity and clay project

As a long time associate artist in residence at Washwood Heath Nursery School (WHNS) in Birmingham, I have been asked to facilitate a project looking at how clay might improve the learning experience for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN). The 10 day project will span the 2018/19 academic year and I am employed to engage the children and staff for three or four days each term.

As with all my clay adventures in Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) documentation is key and an essential part of the project. Each week I observe the youngsters, photographing their interactions and recording notes.

Here are excerpts from my notes from the first session 7-11-18:

Having just a few SEN children to focus on is going to be really beneficial. I found in the past, in my enthusiasm trying to give all the children the best experience, all of the time, I ended up spreading myself too thinly. It’s going to brilliant just to focus on a few and do some real in-depth exploratory work and build some meaningful relationships. Great stuff and I’m genuinely excited to working in this way.

Had a quick briefing with ‘N’ and then set up on the clay table. ‘K’ kindly presented me a list of the children’s names and I spent a lovely morning identifying the children I’m working with and getting to know them one to one. In future weeks, I’m going to set up an activity on the table that the whole of nursery can access and then hone in on my SEN focus group, either at the table or in other parts of the nursery.

‘L’

Perfectly at home on the clay table and spent a good 30 minutes rolling flat slabs and using lolly-pop sticks to mark and prod the sheet of clay. Experimenting with the different sides and ends of the tool to create different marks, drawing straight and circular lines in the clay slab. Uses finger to slide/blend the clay onto the surface of the table. Good exploratory stuff and experimentation

When ‘L’ first sat down at the table, she used a rolling pin to lightly tap away at a dried clay pot, creating a layer of fine particles and dust on the board. She used her fingers to draw through the dust. I introduced a pinch pot with lid for her to contain her dust and broken bits of dried pot. Another child ‘H’ (great interpersonal skills) came and sat next to her at the table and ‘made’ together. – lovely! Holding hands and swapping the odd word or two.

‘L’ seems a happy soul, singing along to the children’s songs playing on the white board whist she works the clay. If you’re happy and you know it pat the clay! Enjoying counting to five as she helps to flatten the clay slab. When ‘L’ leaves the clay table she heads over to the carpet to play the drums and percussive instruments. Music and rhythm is going to be a brilliant way to connect with the ‘L’….and probably the rest of the children too!

child draws with fingers through dry clay dust  on table

‘Z’

I went to find ‘Z’ in the classroom as he was somebody I hadn’t had opportunity to meet yet. I found him happily playing with his plastic dinosaurs. “Stegosaurus!” I headed back to the clay table and grabbed a lump of clay and quickly made a T-rex in front of him. He was suitably impressed, disappeared and then returned with his own lump of clay to model (or to get me) to model another dino. He didn’t need too much persuasion to join me at the clay table for some more clay dinosaur modeling. “Make a stegosaurus out of clay” Loved the way he used a pencil to very carefully prod eyes into the dinosaurs head. We somehow ended up with a two headed stegosaurus! At the end of the session “bye bye dinosaur” on the way out he saw a small, life like plastic spider “spider” became slightly obsessed and slightly frightened by the realistic toy. Maybe a starting point for next time?

dinosaurs modeled in clay by nursery child

Clay dinosaurs made by YR reception at Woodlands Infant School with jon the potter from Eastnor Pottery

Jon worked with the two Reception classes at Woodlands Infant School in Shirley earlier this week. The four and five year old pupils have been studying dinosaurs as part of their learning and were really really excited about making their own pottery creation.

Making clay dinosaurs has to be one of our favourite themes of all time. Probably, in part something to do with our son’s obsession with all things Jurassic when he was a youngster.

The children used the simple technique of sticking two pinch-pot bowls together to make a hollow structure. Next they fashioned their hollow ball, without breaking the seal into a dinosaur of their choosing, using an additional lump of clay to make legs, spikes, horns etc.

As well as learning new clay skills the children also used lots of new words and vocabulary to express what they were doing. Here are just a few snippets of conversation with their teacher after they had completed the activity:

“I was going to make a T-Rex but I changing my mind. The Slytherin [painted slip!] was the best bit – it makes it look shiny”

“I made a T-Rex, I made the mouth wider”

“I was squeezingly it carefully so it didn’t burst – I stroked it and it sticks”

“It stayed brown when I put it [green slip] over the top”

“I found it easy doing the body. I made the tail a bit lumpy and a bit short”

“I made a theradactile it had wings – I rolled them”

“I cant really spin it with my finger [making the thumb pot] if it didn’t have a hole it would explode”

“The spikes was tricky, I tried to flatten it and stick it on”

 

tile panel in the shape of a fish

Check out these beautiful River Wye inspired tile panels made with the students at St Martins Primary School in Hereford.

Jon worked with every child in the school at the back end of the Summer term, encouraging them to roll the soft clay to make tiles. Low relief decoration, inspired by their experience of living in Hereford was modeled onto the surface and the whole effect painted with coloured slips.

At the end of the workshop sessions, the individual tiles were transported to the Pottery for drying, firing and glazing. Once out of the kilns the children’s work was assembled into collaborative fish, ducks and swans and finally attached to bespoke painted boards.

The finished panels were delivered to St Martins in October ready for installation on a huge wall above a busy stairwell. As soon as we have a photo we’ll share it right here on our website.

Pottery team building event at Eastnor Pottery Herefordshire

Staff from the School of Biological Sciences, Bristol University descended on the Pottery in August, (all 18 of them) for a spot of pottery team building.

Participants built a collaborative jug, took turns on eight potter’s wheels and made some intricate pottery models before enjoying a buffet lunch in The Potting Tent Marquee.

If you would like to reward your staff or our planning a unique works away day for your colleagues, please take a look at our page dedicated to team-building.

If I was to name a community arts practitioner who I greatly admire for her work with young people, it has to be artist drama practitioner Toni Cook. Time and time again I’ve witnessed Toni work her magic with groups, using a mix of performance, wit and humility to build massive levels of confidence in the young people.

I’ve been fortunate to have collaborated with Toni on several projects so you can imagine my delight on being invited to work with her again on a project initiated by Hereford Library service and SHYYP – a charity working with young homeless people or those at risk of being made homeless.

Although I only worked two sessions with a small group of young people in Ross on Wye Library, I was so impressed by the group’s creativity and confidence, I found myself, a few weeks later, in the Courtyard Theatre watching a performance by the same young people called ‘If you walked a mile in my shoes’

The moving performance told the individual stories of 14 young people, who shared their own true-life experiences through prose, poetry, songs, rap and film, describing their emotions, questions of identity, making their voice heard and fight for survival.

It was brilliant! A testament, not only to the participant’s bravery but to the skillful facilitation of Toni and the other artists, organisations and youth workers involved. Well done everybody!

tile panel in the shape of a book made by young people from SHYYP at Ross on Wye Library