Home Education Magazine
March-April 1999 - Columns
Good Stuff - Pots, Bowls, and Mudpies: Clay for Kids
Few art projects are so satisfying as messing about with clay. It can be enjoyed by kids of almost all ages, from tots to teens; you can do practically anything with it; and it just plain feels good. It won't poison you if you eat it. It's relatively easy to clean up (unless stomped heavily into the carpet). And generally it doesn't cost much. Our kids - clay fans from the word go - have used it to make everything from chess sets to Navajo pots to mobiles to models of the Parthenon, as well as a perfectly beautiful bright-blue wizard and an entire set of Christmas ornaments based on the characters in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.
The boys' potting careers began in toddlerhood with play dough, the recipe for which - now liberally splotted with food coloring - was given to me by a friend around the corner the year Joshua, our oldest son, was two. A play dough recipe, in my opinion, is a homeschool staple; for those of you who haven't already acquired one, try this:
Mix 3 cups of flour, 1 1/2 cups salt, and 2 tablespoons cream of tartar. Add 6 tablespoons of vegetable oil, 3 cups of water, and a few drops of food coloring. Mix thoroughly; then cook over low heat until the dough feels like mashed potatoes. Store in plastic bags.
As art dough recipes go, however, this is just the tip of the iceberg. MaryAnn Kohl's Mudworks: Creative Clay, Dough and Modeling Experiences (Bright Ring, 1989) contains over 100 different recipes for various kinds of doughs, clays, and modeling compounds, among them bread clay, stained-glass dough, and toothpaste putty, along with descriptions of innovative projects to go with them. Dribble Drabble: Art Experiences for Children by Deya Brashears (DMC Publications, 1986) is a collection of creative art activities for preschoolers; included are recipes not only for standard play dough, but for moon craters mix, peanut butter dough, soap dough, and more. Glues, Brews, and Goos: Recipes and Formulas for Almost Any Classroom Project by Diana Marks (Teacher Ideas Press, 1996) is a fat collection of recipes for practically everything, from recycled paper to salt map mix to cheese (yes, cheese, as in sandwiches), as well as assorted modeling concoctions; the book can be ordered from Libraries Unlimited, Box 6633, Englewood, CO 80155-6633; (303) 770-1220 or (800) 237-6124; web site: www.lu.com. Recipes for Art and Craft Materials by Helen Roney Sattler (Beech Tree Books, 1994) is another collection of make-your-own art supplies: readers learn how to whip up their own modeling compounds, papier-maches, pastes, paints, and inks.
For recipes on-line, check out "Craft Recipes" at www.interlog.com/~speirs/ crafts/craftrec.htm, a useful site stuffed with recipes for playdoughs, play clays, salt doughs, slime, and goofy putty; "Fun Crafts for Kids" at tac.shopnetmall.com/ www.funroom.com/craftindex.html, a good source for projects, patterns, and recipes for play clay, colored sand, and paints; and "Gooicky" at www.ptialaska.net /~bundyd/gooicky.html, which lists many recipes for modeling compounds, doughs, goops, foams, flubbers, and papier maches.
"Clay" - as in play clay, modeling clay, and potters' clay - comes in many different permutations. Modeling clays are generally not clays per se, but malleable plastic-based compounds ("polymer clays") which - depending on the nature of the plastic - may be non-hardening, which means they stay soft and squishy forever; air-hardening, which means they turn rock-solid if left out to dry overnight; or oven-hardening, which means they must be solidified by baking at low temperature (usually 275 degrees F) in the kitchen oven. Popular examples of the latter include FIMO clay - available in every color under the sun, from turquoise to terracotta; Sculpey clay, which we prefer to FIMO because it's cheaper; and Friendly clay, which comes in either solid colors or as "millefiori canes," gorgeously multicolored clay cylinders with inset patterns that can be sliced or rolled for any number of impressive projects. Sources for all of the above, plus modeling tools, stamps, rollers, cutters, and instruction books, include: Sax Arts and Crafts, Box 510710, New Berlin, WI 53151; (800) 558-6696 (orders) or (800) 522-4278 (customer service). Catalog, $5.00. RB Walter Art and Craft Materials, Box 6231, Arlington, TX 76005; (800) 447-8787.
What potters generally mean by "clay" is the real McCoy, dug out of Mother Earth. Potters' clay comes in a range of different characters, colors, and compositions; the most popular for home use are called "earthenware" clays, commonly available in either white (which looks gray when wet) or terracotta red. Earthenware clay is cheap - you can get fifty pounds of it for about $15 - but it has disadvantages for home users. While such clay does air-dry, the result is a fragile stuff called "greenware" that shatters very (very) easily. To prevent it from turning into rubble, greenware must be hardened by baking at temperatures of 1800 degrees F or thereabouts in a pottery kiln. If your kids have a very serious interest in pottery - or cherish intentions of starting a small home pottery business - a kiln might be a worthwhile investment. It's not, unfortunately, a minor investment: even a small-sized model can cost anywhere from $500 to $1000. For more information, the truly dedicated might contact: Great Lakes Clay and Supply Company, 120 S. Lincoln Ave., Carpentersville, IL 60110; (847) 551-1070 or (800) 258-8796; www.greatclay.com. Sheffield Pottery, Inc., U.S. Route 7, Box 399, Sheffield, MA 02157; (413) 229-7700 or (888) SPI-CLAY; www.sheffield-pottery.com. A.R.T. Studio Clay Co., 9320 Michigan Ave., Sturtevant, WI 53177-2425; (800) 323-0212; email@example.com
What to do with your clay once you've got it? Fun With Modeling Clay by Barbara Reid (Kids Can Press, 1998) is a collection of step-by-step sculpture projects for elementary-school-aged kids illustrated with color photographs. Young modelers use such simple shapes as balls, pancakes, and snakes to assemble bugs, birds, boats, little clay people, and baskets of fruit. The Incredible Clay Book by Sherri Haab and Laura Torres (Klutz Press, 1994) comes with eight 1-ounce blocks of polymer clay in different splashy colors for which the authors describe 150 different projects: kids make, for example, jewelry, refrigerator magnets, tacks, and finger puppets. Art from Sand and Earth by Gillian Chapman and Pam Robson (Raintree/Steck Vaughn, 1998) includes instructions for making a number of clay-based crafts, among them a bird whistle and a bowl. More Than Moccasins by Laurie Carlson (Chicago Review Press, 1996) contains over 100 activities and projects designed to teach kids aged 3 to 9 about American Indian life; among these are instructions for making a traditional clay pot. Native American Clay Pots by Katherine Gleason (Troll Associates, 1997) includes basic information on traditional Indian pottery and comes with a package of air-hardening clay which kids can use to make and paint their own coiled pot. Ancient Graffiti and Curiosity Kits both sell packaged craft kits for young potters: Ancient Graffiti's "American Indian Pottery Making Kit" comes with two pounds of red clay, a handmade twig brush and scraper, and four packets of "natural pigments" for painting; the Curiosity Kit "American Indian Pottery" includes all the materials for kids to make a coiled red-clay painted pot. To order or for a local source, contact Ancient Graffiti, 52 Seymour Street, Middlebury, VT 05753; (802) 388-2919 or (888) 725-6632; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; or Curiosity Kits, Box 811, Cockeysville, MD 21030; (410) 584-2605 or (800) 584-KITS; e-mail: CKitsinc@aol.com.
Books to accompany your clay projects might include Gail Gibbons's The Pottery Place (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987), a colorful picture book for 4- to 8-year-olds that explains what a potter does, from raw clay to finished pot. (Included is a nice labeled diagram showing all the parts of a potter's wheel.) Children of Clay: A Family of Pueblo Potters by Rina Swentzell (First Avenue Editions, 1993) is a photo-essay showing how the Tewa Indians make their traditional pottery; Byrd Baylor's lovely When Clay Sings (Aladdin, 1987) is a poetic description of life among the prehistoric Indian tribes of the southwestern United States, illustrated with designs from ancient pottery artifacts. Clay Boy by Mirra Ginsburg (Greenwillow, 1997) is a picture book based on an old Russian folktale in which a childless couple make themselves a little boy out of clay. The clay boy comes lumpily alive and proceeds to swallow everything in sight - people, cows, sheep, pigs, and even a horse and wagon - until an ornery goat butts him in the stomach and smashes him to pieces. (The swallowed victims then pop out and all live happily ever after.) And finally, for a spot of history, try Fired Up! Making Pottery in Ancient Times by Rivka Gonen (Runestone Press, 1993), which - for middle-grade readers - discusses the history of pottery in Japan, Greece, the ancient Middle East, and the Americas and shows how archaeologists study ceramic artifacts today.
Which brings us to the inadvertently smashed pottery project. Such accidents have their silver linings. With a little patience and a lot of glue, they provide the raw material - shards - for practicing hands-on archaeology.
Scientific American Explorations
A terrific magazine of "Science and Technology Fun for the Family" from the publishers of Scientific American.. Each issue includes interesting and creatively illustrated informational articles - my sample issue, for example, includes pieces on the physics of music, the chemistry of bread-baking, life on the International Space Station, the U.S. Space Camp in Titusville, Florida, and "The Hidden World of Microbes." Each article is accompanied by color photographs, diagrams, suggestions for experiments and demonstrations, and a list of books and web sites that provide additional information. There's a tear-out "Young Explorer" section just for kids - puzzles, stories, quizzes, experiments, and a cartoon titled "Great Moments in Science History" - and pieces on science education and family science activities targeted at parents. The "Further Explorations" department lists on-going exhibits at science and technology centers around the country and reviews new science books, CD-ROMs, web sites, and movies.
An annual subscription (4 issues) costs $11.80; contact Scientific American Explorations, Box 2053, Harlan, IA 51593-0236; (800) 285-5264; fax (712) 755-7118; web site: www.explorations.org.
Lyrical Life Science: The Human Body
Learn life science through music. Lyrical Learning, a group with a solid grasp of science and a zany sense of humor, continues to expand their series of tape, text, and workbook sets covering the many aspects of biology. Volume I introduced kids to basic biology (see review in HEM, Nov/Dec 1995); Volume II ("Mammals") covered mammalian classification, food chains, and biomes (see review in HEM, Sept/Oct 1996); and now Volume III teaches kids all about the human body. Like its predecessors, the prime teaching tool in this newest publication is music: "The Human Body" features 13 catchy, comprehensive - and inherently hilarious - songs based on "traditional, patriotic and camp tunes of long ago." The accompanying text includes the lyrics and music to all the songs, clearly presented scientific information and explanations, highlighted definitions, and related black-and-white illustrations, diagrams, and cartoons. All the major body systems are covered: skeletal, muscular, sensory, reproductive, digestive, excretory, circulatory, immune, respiratory, and endocrine. It's not the what that makes this series so appealing, though; it's the how. Where else can you find a five-verse song about the muscular system, sung to the tune of "Erie Canal" ("Muscles of three types you'll find/Skeletal, smooth, and the cardiac kind"); a musical celebration of the sensory system to the tune of "The Caissons Go Rolling Along;" or a detailed description of the circulatory system to the tune of "Red River Valley"? Your kids will laugh. They'll also learn all the songs - whether they try to or not - and they won't ever ever forget them.
Also available is an accompanying workbook, which includes matching and fill-in-the-blank exercises, diagrams to be labeled, and some very short "essay" questions.
Text/cassette tape sets of each volume cost $19.95; with workbook, $25.50. Order from
Cobblestone, the publisher of such excellent children's magazines as Cobblestone (American History), Calliope (World History), Faces (World Cultures), and Odyssey (Science), has recently introduced two new periodicals: Footsteps, a magazine of African-American history for kids aged 9 to 14; and Appleseeds, a multidisciplinary themed magazine for kids aged 7 to 9.
Each 48-page themed issue of Footsteps centers around a particular event or feature of African-American history. The charter issue, titled "Sengbe and the Amistad," centers around the historic mutiny on board the slave ship Amistad in 1839; 1999 issues will cover such topics as African-Americans in the Civil War (the Massachusetts 54th Regiment), "Black Cowboys," and "Blacks in Whaling." Each issue includes a variety of nonfiction and fictionalized historical articles, maps, timelines, illustrations, activity suggestions, and lists of supplementary books and resources.
Each 32-page issue of Appleseeds also centers around a single theme, in the fields of American history, world history, geography, or science. Past issue titles have included "Growing Up in Colonial Williamsburg" and "Giving Thanks;" 1999 titles will include "Mapping the World," "Children of Ancient Egypt," "Rachel Carson," and "Amazing Weather." Each issue is illustrated with photographs and drawings. Included are games and activities, recipes, craft project instructions, vocabulary facts, math challenges, and suggestions for supplementary reading. "Growing Up in Colonial Williamsburg," for example, includes articles on Williamsburg past and present, a "tour" of modern Williamsburg illustrated with photographs of historical re-enactors, an account of how museum "clothing detectives" learn about the fashions of the past, a piece on a day in the life of junior interpreters at Williamsburg, a game called "Errands to Run" based on a map of Colonial Williamsburg ("Buy a new ribbon for your mother's hat at the Mary Dickinson Store on Duke of Gloucester Street..."), an article on "African-Americans in Williamsburg," a double-page spread of the "Comical Hotch-Potch" alphabet, used in the late 18th century to teach children to read, information on colonial medicine and money, instructions for making a curly white colonial-style wig, and directions for a paper quilling project.
An annual subscription to Footsteps (5 issues) costs $23.95; an annual subscription to Appleseeds (9 issues), $26.95. Order from Cobblestone Publishing Company, 30 Grove St., Peterborough, NH 03458-1454; (800) 821-0115; web site: www.cobblestonepub.com.
Bethump'd With Words Book Edition
The authors/inventors of Bethump'd With Words - one of our very favorite board games (see review in HEM, Jan/Feb 1997) - and Bethump'd With Words Junior have come up with a book edition of the game, comfortably suitable for hauling about in the car, reading out loud in front of the woodstove, taking along on picnics, and entertaining (and educating) conversational groups of all ages. The book edition consists of 265 pages of creative word challenges, questions, and curiosities in 35 different categories, presented at six different levels, from easy(ish) to downright difficult. All are utterly fascinating. Categories, for example, include Briticisms (words, phrases, or expressions peculiar to British English), Dinosaur Words (archaic words), Eponyms (words derived from the names of persons, places, or things), Euphemisms, Word History, Homonyms, Idioms, Jargon, Letter Words, Quotations, Sexist English, Spoonerisms, and Word Origins.
Do you know what the British call a pull tab on a can? When the word "teenager" first appeared in English? What name for a type of riding breeches came from a city in India?
In 1871, what word did Lewis Carroll coin by blending the words "snort" and "chuckle?"
How many states in the United States have American Indian names: 6, 11, or 25? All the answers are right there in the book.
Rules are included for formal games; we, however, have been simply reading the book right straight through, question by question, no skipping. We try to take turns, but generally everybody gets excited and talks at once.
The Bethump'd With Words Book Edition by Covey MacGregor (MLR Books, 1998) costs $15.00. Book (and board games) are available from Mamopalire of Vermont, Inc., Box 24, Warren, VT 05674; (802) 496-4095; fax (802) 496-4096.
© 1999, Rebecca Rupp
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