Monday, May 9, 2016

Outdoor Easels, Sensory Tables, and the Clay Question in Kindergarten

Several years ago I got my training in Nature Explore certified playgrounds. Our training was held at Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills MD.

There were many wonderful features but several stood out to me. One was the enormous fallen tree / root ball system for kids to climb on!

They also had a water pump station and a "dry stream bed" of pebbles that wound throughout the playground and was crossed with several little bridges. This was so simple and it inspired hours of imaginative play!

Outdoor Art Areas are a requirement of a Nature Explore certified playground and one of the loveliest ideas I've seen is large fieldstone pavers set up as easels. Children simply paint on the stone with a paintbrush and water.

Our nearby school has an enormous plexiglas outdoor easel. Once a week I go and put an art supply there. They also have an outdoor sensory table for recess time. Last week I brought shaving cream for the easel -- which was a HUGE hit -- and water, soap, and large kitchen utensils for the sensory table. The kids were covering the easel with shaving cream, running to wash their hands and play with the bubbles in the sensory table, and running back to put their hands in the shaving cream again.

Yesterday we planted my six heirloom tomatoes as well as two rosemary plants and a sage (rosemary and sage are companion plants; they like to be together). I noticed that I have an enormous patch of Lamb's Ear. So I think I may pick an armful of those silvery fuzzy leaves and put them in the sensory table for this week! (I love this plant. Lamb's Ear is also listed in the first section of my new page on the site: 1001 Ideas for Toddlers and Twos.)

Outdoor play is so so important and I just want to take a second here to advocate for having a digging pit. Preferably, your child would have access to a running stream, a sandbox, and ALSO a clay pit.

You'll find disagreement among Waldorf homeschoolers as to whether clay is suitable for the Kindergarten child. Some say it is too "dead." Others argue that it is a natural material from the earth and that working with it strengthens the will forces. I personally feel that work with clay is beneficial and that children are drawn to it.

Here is an excerpt from Michael Howard's excellent book Educating the Will
[available FREE at the Online Waldorf Library]

    "In Waldorf schools there is a prevailing view that from pre-school up through grade 3 children should model with beeswax. Promoting the merits of beeswax typically includes the judgement that clay should not be used with young children because it is harmful to them. The explanation commonly given is that the cold, wet clay robs the children's forces.

    "If this is the case, we may well ask if it is harmful for young children to play in puddles, streams, wet sand, mud, snow, and the cold water from the sink? Playing with such materials can be messy and thus can cause some inconvenience, but I have never heard anyone say they are harmful. Quite the opposite, it is generally regarded as normal and healthy. If there is any reason for concern it surely is in regard to those children who avoid playing with materials such as sand and snow. One find the same healthy delight and creative play in a group of children mucking out in a natural clay pit as in a sandbox.

    "Such observations alone are reason enough to be wary of the view that clay is inappropriate or harmful in the early years. Those who do not trust their own experience about the healthy nature of clay modeling may look to Rudolf Steiner for the definitive insight. Research by colleagues both in Europe and America have thus far found not one statement from Steiner that hints at the harmful effect of clay at any age. On the contrary, Steiner said, 'We continue this [fundamental artistic work in grades 1-4] by moving on to three-dimensional plastic forms, using plasticine if it is available and whatever else you can get if it isn't -- even if it's the mud from the street it doesn't matter. The point is to develop the ability to see and sense forms.' Second Curriculum Lecture, Discussions with Teachers"
    [available FREE from the Online Waldorf Library at the link above]

Being able to dig in a clay pit is best but you can also give your child access to

self-hardening clay

Store it in between uses in a large one or two gallon Ziploc bag, wrapped in a dish towel that has been soaked in warm water and then wrung nearly dry.

After you've explored the clay, have a pail of warm soapy water ready for washing hands. NEVER pour water with self-hardening clay in it down your sink! Put it outside in your yard.

Children Clay and Sculpture

by Cathy Weisman Topal

1 comment:

Renee said...

I brought armfuls of lamb's ear today and piled it in the sensory table... and set out red, orange, yellow, light green, dark green, light blue, dark blue, and violet paints at the easel. I also had smocks, a bin of warm soapy water, and paper towels. It was such a hit! The children loved to feel the fuzzy leaves and they couldn't wait to use them as paintbrushes on the easel.

Two notes: Since leaves don't have a handle, paint will get on hands. Especially since lots of the children painted the leaves in different colors with their fingers and then pressed them onto the plexiglas to make a print. And since the leaves don't hold as much paint as brushes do, you need a lot less paint then you usually would set out.