When the cold weather in Virginia finally arrives after months of stifling heat and humidity, an elementary art teacher lifts her weary eyes to a unit of clay. I have never had the luxury of working with a small enrollment. I have dealt with one school which enrollment was just shy of 1000 (K-5) and another school which I had a little of 800. My schedule at my last school was back to back classes. I mean not one minute between classes. This was brutal. It was stressful and frankly ridiculous. It was all to preserve that big block of language arts. Whatever.

If you want to save your sanity as an elementary art teacher, you have to plan, plan and plan. You have got to be organized beyond description. Clay is fun and I always looked forward to it. What I didn’t look forward to is stressing myself and the students with getting it ALL finished in 45 minutes. I had no storage at all to house “in progress” pieces. My administrator never understood why I complained about no storage. Whatever.

When clay season started I would do two grade levels a week. Usually one primary and one elementary level. For example, 5th grade and Kindergarten. When my clay order comes in at the end of August I do not go through the cases. I don’t have the time. So when you open that case up in November it is anyone’s guess the stage of that 25-pound block of clay. In a situation that the block might not be there with wetness. This pic below illustrates exactly what I would do.

rehydrating clay from the site, Art Moments by Kathleen O’Malley

Holes are poked deeply with the handle of a paintbrush, water poured and bad sealed up.

Depending on what your students will be creating with the clay, it is to give them as much time as possible to actually work with the clay. One way in which to do this is to precut the clay and keep it damp until they come in. How? There is cutting up the clay into sizes each student will need and then putting many of them into a gallon zip lock bag. Below you will see how Jessica Balsley from The Art of Education does just that.

img_1518 As you can see Jessica labels the bags according to grade level etc. All she has to do is grab and go. Are slabs going to be what your students will be using to start their work? Jessica has a solution for that as well. I have used this method numerous times and what a life saver! The Art of Education has these plus a HUGE amount of ideas and resources for art teachers!

When I did clay projects with the kiddos, the clay itself was ready, it was divided and tools were out. I called students by table numbers and then came to me. I explained getting all the supplies to getting through the line in the cafeteria. They grabbed hand tools, placemat (which was a large brown grocery bag). I used the same stack from year to year. They are durable if they get wet and they dry pretty quick.paper-bag-156023_640

Another thing I would use for grades 3-5 is paper patterns. I worked at a school where the majority of the students rarely if ever used fine motor exercises outside of school. Personally, I have a problem with doing this. There is some pressure on some art teachers to “produce” quality work. I could go off on this subject for pages but that is not why I am here. For some slab based projects, I used simplistic paper patterns that would be put on the slab and the students cut the clay. Honestly, it gave some students great confidence that they could complete the rest of the project. Below are some examples of what I mean. Granted they are linked to more professional clay work but I wanted you to get the idea.

Lakeside Pottery-

laying a paper template onto the slab as demonstrated by Lakeside pottery

Any basic pattern will do. Many times I will make them out of thick poster board and but out one set and use them over and over.

When the students are finished with their work, turning them in begins. The biggest problem with this stage is making sure their names or some identifying something in on the piece. My go to method is having them etch their initials and then the first letter of their teacher’s last name with a circle drawn under the initials.If a clay piece gets mixed up with another class at least I can keep all of the same class together.


Come to the Art side: A blog by Ms. Alkire She along with some cool projects, gives you a great list of others things to be mindful of as you have your students work with clay.

Come to the Art side

Now some awesome projects brought to us by fantastic elementary art teachers!




Once Upon An Art Room Teddy Bears


Ms O’s Art Room/3rd Grade Birds Nests