Early Childhood Modeling Clay Activities

By Erica Loop
Your child can get creative with clay.
Your child can get creative with clay.

By the preschool years, most children have the hand and finger coordination skills to use kids’ safety scissors, draw simple geometric shapes and self-feed using utensils, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Although your little learner is gaining fine-motor control, artsy activities such as modeling clay crafts can help her build these budding abilities.

Clay Exploration

Modeling clay activities don’t always have to be about making something. According to art education expert Marvin Bartel, writing at Bartelart.com, open-ended clay explorations allow the young child to experiment, see that actions have consequences, stimulates curiosity and can help motor development. Instead of instructing your child on what he should do or make with the clay, allow him to make his own discoveries and explore the modeling medium. For example, give your child a stick or ball of modeling clay. Encourage him to poke, push, pull roll, stretch and manipulate the clay into different shapes. Avoid telling him to create something specific during exploration activities or telling him that he isn’t using the clay correctly. Intervene in your child’s artistic process only if you see him about to, or engaging in, an unsafe practice such as trying to eat the clay.

Clay and Tools

You don’t need to break the bank buying fancy clay tools at a craft store. You can further your young artist’s exploration of modeling clay by giving her an array of easy-to-use tools. After your child has spent plenty of time exploring the clay with her own hands, and her own imagination, add in a few simple tools. Avoid handing out the tools before your child explores the clay. Chances are that your toddler or preschooler will go straight for the tools and not spend much time exploring. When you feel your child has had ample time to try exploration-type activities, provide her with craft sticks, a rolling pin, plastic spoons or even plastic cookie cutters.

Coiling Craft Pots

While your young child might not yet have the skills to craft the perfect pot, he can experiment with coiling to make his own version. Demonstrate the process of creating coils for your child, and then ask him to try on his own. Give your child a small ball or piece of clay; the bigger the piece, the larger the coil. Have your child roll the clay out with his hands into a snake-like tube. Flatten another piece to make the base. Use a round cookie cutter or help your child sculpt a circle shape. Wrap, or coil, the tube around the top of the flat circle piece of clay. Repeat this process with more coils.

3-D Sculptures

As your young child gets used to working with modeling clay, you can introduce themed activities. Play to your child’s interests, choosing a subject matter that she enjoys. For example, if your child can’t stop talking about the animals that she saw on your trip to the zoo, suggest that she builds a 3-D sculpture of her favorite creature. Allow her to choose her subject, gently guiding her and offering suggestions if she gets frustrated when trying to figure out how to make the model. For example, if she can’t figure out how to make a tiger’s head, ask her what shape she thinks it looks like. Instead of making the head for her, demonstrate your technique and have her watch. She can try it on her own after she feels comfortable with the modeling concept.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.