Like most elementary school art teachers you probably strain your brain to come up with simple and fun clay making lesson plans. Here’s a suggestion for kids from third to seventh grades which demonstrates basic ceramic techniques and at the same time provides a functional and attractive art object which can be used as a Mother’s Day or Christmas gift. Making a ceramic tray decorated with beautiful impressions accurately and quickly demonstrates to students how easy it is to create beautiful pottery as well as providing a basic understanding of how clay feels, how to use tools to cut the clay to size, and how to give surface texture. This project provides instant gratification in a first-time ceramics class, and thus increases the students’ self-confidence and their interest in learning more about pottery-making.
The materials required for this ceramic art education project are a slab of clay rolled out to 1/4″ thickness, a rolling pin, a pin tool, a window wipe, clay stamps, leaves or other flat found objects, newspaper, WD-40 lubricant, a wooden board sized to reflect the inside dimensions of the finished tray and a piece of foam 2 1/2″ to 3″ thick, and a bit larger than the size of the finished tray. Then, using the rolling pin or a slab roller flatten the clay to a uniform 1/4″ thickness. Place the slab on a sheet of newspaper. Using a window wipe or a metal pottery kidney, smooth out the surface of the slab. Spray the bottom of the wooden board with WD-40 so that the clay slab will separate from it easily. Lay the board on the clay slab and mark the outline of the board on the slab. This will define the inner dimensions of the finished tray. Arrange the leaves, or other flat found objects, in the center part of the tray and press them into the clay with the rolling pin.
Using a ruler, score the clay slab an inch or so wide all the way around the area defined by the wooden board, and cut it out from the slab. This strip will be the rim of the tray. Decorate what will become the tray’s rim with clay stamps, or by other means. This is where classroom ceramics creativity can be truly inspiring and innovative. Place the cut-out tray slab that is still clinging to the newspaper on top of the foam. Placing the lubricated side of the wooden gently in the center of the cut-out tray. Press the board onto the clay until the the clay rim erects to the angle desired; the tray is now fully formed. Using the pin tool, remove the board from the clay by starting at the corners and lifting gently. Allow the tray to dry to leather hardness, and then bisque-fire. Glaze the tray as desired, and fire to cone 06.