The children were given two types of materials so we could see what they would do with it. Our goal was to have them feel and play with the materials and explore how they could manipulate it. The children began to experiment with the clay and tried many different things, testing their hypothesis and enjoying the process along the way. Their initial experiment was to taste the clay (something natural for children of this age) however we demonstrated how they could form and manipulate the clay with their hands. One child accidentally dropped the clay and became fascinated that once the clay hit the floor, it became flat. Another child saw this and dropped his clay as well and became excited to see how flat it was. You could see in their faces that they enjoyed feeling the texture, digging their nails into the material, and rolling the clay around on the table.
This activity is important because it allows the children to create hypotheses, experiment, and take note of their results in a fun way. Playing with clay is also a wonderful way to incorporate a sensory experience into their day. Children love to feel the cold, wet, squishy, heavy, and differentiating textures of the clay and manipulate the materials in their hands. We’ve noticed that it gives the children a unique sense of pride to be able to control something and create a final product. Clay play develops children’s motor skills, problem solving skills, discipline, hand and eye coordination, and social skills.
By playing with clay, children are introduced to the concepts of shape, form, perspective, and three-dimensional learning. Whether children poke it, squeeze it, hit it, pick it up, drop it, or smash their hands into it, they are interacting and engaging with this material in a way that lets them fully explore their capabilities and the materials capabilities. The most wonderful part of this activity was to see the look on a child’s face when they realized that their actions have consequences, meaning when they dropped the clay, the clay became flat. Clay provides instant feedback when touched or prodded, and the children noticed this!
Playing with clay is essential to the Reggio Emilia approach because it allows children to learn from natural materials, encourages children to take some control over the direction of their learning, and allows them to develop a relationship with material items and other children.