Slabs and Structures

By Rebecca Sadler

“Using clay gives children another language for expressing thoughts, ideas, and emerging working theories about their world…helping them to make their thinking and learning visible.” ~Lisa Terreni

As our work with clay progresses in the Olive Room, I felt children were ready to use the techniques they know and incorporate them into their learning on a larger scale. We have been interested in building structures. My colleague Eric has created many opportunities for the children to plan their buildings, and then offered many open-ended materials to support this interest such as: wood planks, PVC pipes, fabrics, bamboo shoots, and now we can add CLAY to that.

The children have mastered techniques like; pressing, rolling, cutting, and smoothing which they can apply to this work. We begin by pressing the clay flat, then rolling out a slab. The next part of the process depends on the child’s idea, they need to know what shapes will help with their vision. We follow through by cutting those shapes out with a variety of tools.

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Creating a structure requires a lot of different parts. Some structures like the one Atlas created with toothpicks requires a slab at the bottom for support, and balls that he rolled in his hand to connect the toothpicks together. Other structures like the one Olive is creating needed square shapes for the bottom and different pieces for the top. When Olive’s form was coming together, I heard her talking about her structure.

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“This is the top of the tent.”

“A homeless person lives here.”

“I’m going to use the toothpicks for the roof”

My thoughts churned, and I realized while listening that there was more. Olive gave her structure a purpose, something truly meaningful. This time for her was more than pretending, she created something that to me felt genuinely intrinsic, by thinking of someone else and creating a space for them to live.

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What meaning do the structures hold for the children?

Giving the children ample opportunities and different ways to explore has shown me how in depth their concepts and actual learning can go.

Where can our interest in building structures here at Little Owl take us when we think about our whole community?

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