Good Morning Colleagues,
A great worry that can prevent teachers using clay in the classroom is the mess that it may make.
Of course it is true that clay can be a messy activity which can upset the caretaker and the cleaners. Over the years working in schools and in particular in primaries ,where most activities take place in the classroom, I have acquired a few simple practices that minimize mess.
Firstly when purchasing
I would recommend a grey or buff coloured clay. Although the red terracotta/earthenware is probably the most responsive and malleable of clays, it can stain carpets when first used due to the iron oxide content (this does come off however over a few cleans and does not present such a problem on a hard surface)
Secondly- restrict the use of water to a minimum.
It is something of a myth that lots of water has to be used with clay. It doesn’t. Many pupils and teachers are aware of the process of throwing clay on an electric wheel to make mugs and jugs. This process does require lots of water but hand building does not. If the clay is soft coming out of the bag it will stick to itself or a dab from the finger will do it. there is no need to make clay into mud.
Put water in a flat paint dish so that it can not be knocked over.
Finally- consider the table covers that you are using
Table covers need to be heavy so that they do not slip or get dragged in different directions thus emptying the contents onto the floor. Covering the tables with newspaper serves little purpose and actually prevents pupils successfully rolling out coils of clay to construct their pots from. Working directly onto the table surface and using the edge of a plastic ruler to scrape off any excess clay before wiping is a better solution.
I hope this helps and improves your experience of using clay in the classroom. Please get in touch if you have any other questions regarding this or any other aspects of working with clay and I will try to help.
Richard Gibson (MA)