Children love working with their hands, and there's no better way to fight boredom than with clay. Children can knead it, divide it, form small figures – and they can break it and start again! This is an easy way to train their fine motor skills.
Children need a brief introduction to working with clay (make sure they know not to put the clay in their mouth, for example!) and a designated work area. Other than that, the only thing left to do is start creating! Set up the work area by preparing the work surface -- paper, wax paper or a tray on a table. Tools such as cookie cutters, old cutlery, toothpicks, rolling pins and pizza cutters are all good for working with clay, and you can provide some of these in the work area as well.
There is no need to produce great pieces of art, especially with small children. Even just having them touch and knead the clay is enough in the beginning; let them get used to this outrageous, wet and soft material! Once they have become more familiar with clay and its characteristics, once they have figured out how best to use it, it is time to start forming the clay!
At the beginning, the clay is still very hard and must be kneaded well! You might need to help the children during this early stage. Then, once the clay is soft, you can start working on one or two of the following projects – or you can make up your own!
A small jar with water is very handy. When your fingers are a little bit wet it's much easier to smooth out the clay.
Form a ball out of the clay. Then flatten it into a 2-cm thick circle. With wet fingers you can even out the sides of the disc. Now the child can press its hand/hands (or even its foot!) into the clay. If you want to be able to hang this on a wall later, you should make a little hole. Using a piece of macaroni to punch a hole through the clay is an easy way to make the hole neat.
If you want to join two pieces of clay together, simply scratch some lines into the contact surfaces, dampen them, and then join the two parts together and smooth out the clay.
By making a ball and flattening it slightly, children can easily create a ladybug out of clay. Using a toothpick, they can draw lines for wings, a mouth and eyes. With the end of a pencil, they can stamp a ladybug’s characteristic dots onto the wings.
Form two lines out of clay, one long and one short. Take the long one and roll it into itself to make the snail’s shell. The short line will be the body. Connect the two parts, shell and body, using the method described above: scratch lines into the contact areas of the two surfaces that will be joined, dampen the areas, and then smooth the joint with your fingers and thumbs. Using a toothpick, you can draw the eyes.
Cover the inside of a small cup or bowl with some tissue. Form a ball out of clay and put it into the bowl. Now press carefully on the ball with your thumbs to make it as big as the cup. Slowly the clay will be pressed towards the bowl and will take the shape of a pot. The sides should be about 1cm thick. Finally, even out the sides with wet fingers. The clay can be left inside the bowl or cup to dry.
Alternatively, you can take the clay out of the bowl and scratch patterns into the wet clay.