Children of all ages can learn a variety of techniques that will allow them to create an assortment of shapes with clay and play dough.
Whether kids are working with air-dry clay, modeling clay, polymer clay or even a homemade salt-and-dough clay, there are basic techniques that will allow help them to make the creations they imagine. Although it is easy for adults to assume that children can figure out how to work with clay by actually playing with, some guidance is always helpful.
Clay Modeling Tools
Kids should work on a vinyl tablecloth that will protect the surface below. A rolling pin, table knife, and a couple of small boards will give kids the ability to shape clay and dough. Check out Play with Play Dough Tools for more ways kids can manipulate clay, see more.
Some types clay need to be warmed in the hands and kneaded before the child can begin working on their art project. If the child is frustrated by clay that crumbles or falls apart, have the child alternate holding a small amount of clay in her hands and then kneading it until the clay is soft.
Clay Molding Ideas for Kids
The following techniques go from simplest to more complex. The resulting shapes will allow children to create anything that they can picture.
Snake and Cylinder – Form a snake by rolling a piece of clay or dough back and forth between the palms of your hands until it becomes long and thin. As the snake extends beyond your hands, set it on a table covered with a tablecloth dedicated to craft projects and roll the dough back and form. To form a cylinder, use a plastic table knife to cut off the tapered ends.
Ball, Egg, and Raindrop – To make a ball, roll a piece of dough between the palms of your hands using a circular motion. If the dough or clay cracks, it is too cold. Warm the class by alternating pressing the dough flat like a pancake and rolling it in a ball. To make an egg, form a ball and then roll it back and forth until it is oval. Gently pinch one end to create the egg shape. To make a raindrop or teardrop shape, pinch one end of a ball.
Pancake and Petal – Pancakes don’t have to be round. Create any of the above shapes and then flatten it with your fingers or a small rolling pin. If you have a large piece of clay you want to flatten, use a flat board. Create a petal by flattening a ball or drop shape into a pancake. Then pinch along one side.
Cube – Form a cylinder. Press the top of the shape with a cylinder. Give the shape a quarter turn and repeat the flattening motion. Turn the shape again and flatten the ends so you’ll have a cube.
Slab – Set the dough between two boards. Use the rolling pin to flatten the clay. Use a knife to straighten the other two edges.
If your children enjoy working with clay and play dough, you can save money by creating your own Salt and Flour Dough using any of an assortment of recipes. Keep homemade play clays in the refrigerator in a sealable food storage bag or a food storage container. Allow the dough to warm up before use.
- Tom Drury was born in Iowa in 1956. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Drury has published short fiction and essays in The New Yorker, A Public Space, Ploughshares, Granta, The Mississippi Review, The New York Times Magazine, and Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. His novels have been translated into German, Spanish, and French. “Path Lights,” a story Drury published in The New Yorker, was made into a short film starring John Hawkes and Robin Weigert and directed by Zachary Sluser. The film debuted on David Lynch Foundation Television and played in film festivals around the world. In addition to Iowa, Drury has lived in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida, and California. He currently lives in Brooklyn and is published by Grove Press.