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

Thrown and assembled wheel thrown pot made by young man with aspergers at eastnor potteryLeon’s one of regular and valued customers. Every Tuesday he spends an hour or so with his support worker or mum at the Pottery making and decorating pots on the wheel.

For the past seven weeks he’s been working on a single, ‘£100’ pot. Each visit is spent making a separate section on the wheel which is then joined to the one made the previous week.

Over seven weeks, the pot has grown organically and sprouted several handles and palm tree additions. The last couple of weeks have been spent painting the sculpture in coloured under glazes and slips. It emerged resplendent from the kiln a few weeks ago and we think it’s brill! Here’s a link to a short video showing the pot in all it’s 3D glory: Young man with aspergers makes amazing pottery

Boosted by the success, Leon is onto his next project – a ‘£200’ pot!

Buzz light year and zurg made by a student at Tettenhall wood school in Wolverhampton SENJon recently spent two creative and inspiring days working with the young people at Tettenhall Wood School in Wolverhampton, an educational setting specializing in students with a wide range of autism.

Arts week co-ordinator Maggie had worked with Jon in another SEN school and was keen to introduce her current pupils to the delights of working with clay in an exploratory and open ended fashion.

There were some ceramic outcomes  – eg Zurg and Buzz Lightyear beautifully sculpted in a matter of minutes, but on the whole it was all about the potter’s wheel and the fluid, silky consistency of slip and soft clay.

The sessions were gloriously messy and by the end of the day the art room was well and truly splattered, a testament to the enjoyment and enthusiasm in which the students approached the material.

One student was initially unimpressed by the mess and stood a long way from the wheel vocalizing her disapproval at being in the space. Through-out her protest, the individual in question watched the other students take their turn on the wheel and as her mood calmed, she was encouraged to step a little closer. Eventually and with a little more coaxing she was handed a pencil to interact with the spinning clay. She used the pencil to create marks, spirals and swirls before downing the tool and tentatively touching the clay with the tip of her finger. Next thing, both hands were clasped around the lump and a broad smile stretched across her face. All this inside a very short space of time – naught to sixty in 20 minutes!

messy play exploritary session at Tettenhall wood school SEN

terracotta koi carp made by Regency High School and Eastnor PotteryJon entered Regency High School, Worcester on a mission to help students and staff make a shoal of terracotta clay fish.

They managed to construct five Koi Carp, Jon working with each class for an hour or so. Although the fish looked amazing and everybody was proud of their collaborative efforts, Jon was even more excited about the clay work produced by the students who approached the making of scales in their own, unique way.

“I’m continually staggered by the variety of new and creative approaches to clay innovated by adults and children with Special Educational Needs or disabilities. You think you’ve seen it all and then somebody does something with the material you’ve never seen before – amazing and inspiring!”

clay fish scale made by student at Regency High School in Worcester