Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Clay - Dinosaurs

The children learn to work with three-dimensional form while making clay dinosaurs. For ages 3 to 6. Plan 2 sessions.

  • Learning to build three-dimensional forms
  • Working with clay
  • Applying underglazes
three-dimensional, bisque, underglaze

Click here for more information on working with clay.

  • One 12- x 18-inch Masonite board for each child or canvas to cover the work surface
  • Clay, one small grapefruit-sized ball for each child plus a few extra
  • Tenpenny nails (three-inch nails)
  • Containers with a small amount of slip or water
  • Opaque underglazesnon-toxic
  • Clear glazenon-toxic
  • Brushes for applying underglazes
  • Trays for storing clay projects
  • Plastic for gradually drying the clay projects
  • Pictures of dinosaurs for discussion
First Session
  • Check the clay several days before the lesson to be sure it has a good workable consistency
  • Wedge the clay into small grapefruit-sized balls, planning one for each child plus a few extra.
  • Cover work area with individual Masonite boards or canvas.
  • Set out tenpenny nails, containers of slip or water, and clay.
  • Have available the pictures of dinosaurs for discussion.
How to Begin
  • Explain to the children that they will be using clay to make dinosaurs. Be sure they understand that it will take several weeks to complete this project since the clay must be dried slowly and fired in the kiln.
  • Share the examples of dinosaurs with the children and discuss the unique characteristics, such as the plates and tail spikes of the Stegosaurus, the bony frill and three horns of the Triceratops, the long tail of the Apatosaurus (formerly referred to as Brontosaurus), and the small forelimbs and large teeth of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. 
  • Tell the children that they will be making the dinosaurs three-dimensional or viewable from all sides. Since most young children approach clay by flattening it out, demonstrate how to build three-dimensional forms by breaking off a lump of clay and setting it on the table. Then break off four more pieces for legs. Leaving the lump on the table, attach two legs on each side of it. At this point, I say, "Now my dinosaur can go for a walk."  With giggles and protests, the children say, "No no! He's lying on his stomach. He can't walk." Then I put the legs on top of the lump. They respond, "No no! He still can't walk. He's on his back." I pick the lump up off of the table and attach the legs underneath. They agree, "Now my dinosaur can walk."
  • Show the children how to attach the pieces of clay by scratching the surfaces to be joined, applying a small amount of slip or water, and pressing the two pieces together. With the dinosaur in a standing position, it is easier to continue building the three-dimensional form. Be sure the children understand that the clay is soft and they should press gently when attaching the head, plates, tails, etc.
  • Distribute the clay and have the children make their three-dimensional dinosaurs.
Note: Make an air-release hole in the bottom of any piece that is more than 1½ inches thick. Dry the dinosaurs very slowly under plastic wrap, loosening the wrap gradually. When completely dry, bisque fire the clay pieces in a kiln.  

Second Session Preparation
  • Set out bisque-fired dinosaurs.
  • Set out brushes and a variety of underglazes.
How to Begin
  • Tell the children that since the clay pieces have been fired in a kiln, they are now referred to as bisque and are very fragile. Emphasize that they must be handled carefully.
  • Explain to the children that they will be applying underglaze, which is a paint for clay, to their dinosaurs.
  • Demonstrate how quickly the underglaze will dry when applied to the bisque. The children need to dip their brushes often to avoid scrubbing and to cover all areas. They should carefully dab into any cracks or rough areas on the clay surface and brush away any puddles that may form.
  • Show the children that they can apply designs directly on top of dried underglaze. Be sure they understand that the last color painted is the one that will show. Encourage them to use contrasting colors to emphasize parts like horns, teeth, and spikes.
  • Have the children paint their dinosaurs with underglaze, reminding them to handle the bisque very carefully.
Note: Let the underglazed pieces dry overnight. Apply a coat of clear glaze, let dry again, and glaze fire in a kiln. 
  • This is a good project to teach children how to build three-dimensional forms because the thickness of the dinosaurs’ legs and tails makes it easy to balance the clay figures.
  • When working with three-year-old children, moisten the clay more than usual, since they do not have as much strength in their hands. I also don’t introduce scratching and slipping to join pieces of clay with this age. Using very moist clay is usually enough to hold the pieces together if the clay is dried slowly.
  • For small projects, water works as well as slip and is not as messy. Emphasize that only a dab of water is needed, otherwise the clay will become too wet.
  • Keep reminding the children how easily bisque-fired clay can be broken.
  • Opaque, rather than transparent, underglazes are best to use with young children. Mistakes are easily covered up and designs can be painted directly on top of the bottom color.
  • If too much underglaze is applied to bisque, it tends to chip off after being fired in the kiln. Be careful that the children don’t apply more than two or three coats.
  • Glaze is more complicated to work with than underglaze, so I apply the clear glaze for the 3- to 6-year-old children.

  • Are the dinosaurs sturdy and able to stand without support?
  • Are they viewable from all sides?
  • Discuss the individual characteristics of each dinosaur that help to identify it.
What the children might say...
  • I made a really, really long tail for my Apatosaurus!
  • My Tyrannosaurus Rex is so fat.
  • The neck of my dinosaur keeps falling down.
  • My dinosaur got squashed when I tried to put on its head.
  • I got underglaze all over the spikes on my Stegosaurus’s tail and it’s the wrong color. I want them to be white.
  • I want my dinosaur to be pink with green spots.
What you might say...
  • Such a long tail might break easily. Let’s support it by twisting it back onto itself.
  • When clay pieces are very thick, I put an air hole in the bottom to keep it from breaking in the kiln. The hole will not show when your dinosaur is standing up.
  • If your dinosaur has a long neck, we can support it with an extra lump of clay or a box until it hardens a little.
  • Remember that the clay is soft and you must push gently when you make your additions. If your dinosaur’s legs got squashed, you can squeeze them back into shape or attach new ones.
  • Since the last color of underglaze you use is the one that will show, you can let the underglaze dry for a minute and then paint the color you want on top.
  • You as the artist may choose the colors to paint your dinosaur.
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