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working with clay, mud and sand...
Working with the elements touches something that seems to be at the core of us as humans; it ignites our sense of discovery and investigation of the world around us. Earth, in all it’s various
forms, is a rich resource for exploration. It enables creativity to flourish in so many ways: you can sculpt it, grow things in it, find creatures living in it, find traces of things that were once living in it, you can mix it with water and build with it…
Earth can be many, many different colours; you can make it solid or you can crumble it into teeny fragments… It can be hot, cold, strong, soft, sticky, squelchy, gritty or runny… Treasure may be buried deep down and digging huge holes will captivate children for a long time.
Clay is something I’ve worked with for a long time and I studied ceramics as part of my fine art degree at Bretton Hall. I adore clay and all the many possibilities it holds for exploration. There’s a magical
sense of alchemy when you fire it and it changes texture and colour; but I often use clay with children unfired – we explore it in many ways and frequently make things to leave outside and watch the clay return to the soil.
I've also become very excited by the possibilities of working with cob and building cob ovens - including the cob oven we built at Dunkirk in June 2013. Cob - a mixture of clay, sand and sometimes straw - is a really ancient building material and incredibly strong when dry.
Sand, another form of earth, is an amazing material for investigation –and something that really needs to be explored on a big scale. Watch children (and adults) on a beach and you see so many different creative and scientific playful studies being undertaken; people will spend hours making things, collecting, building and sitting / lying in sand. Sand changes consistency when you mix it with water, you can create dams, streams, roads, whole villages and cities even…
You can add found pieces of wood or stones and build large
structures… You can hide things in sand… You can make patterns into sand with objects and with your own body; you can dance on it and it holds your body in a very different way to tarmac or grass or concrete… You can’t explore sand in the same way if you only have a small sand tray to stand at the side of. We are lucky in the
foundation space at Dunkirk Primary School to have a big sand area and as part of my residency there its fascinating to watch the children explore this space, I’m constantly inspired by their ideas and investigations.
Earth, mud, soil – many words to describe that rich substance in the ground. I love to work with it in many ways; to grow plants in it, to search for mini-beasts, to hunt for fossils, to dig deep and see different colours and soil types, to find rocks and stones… Mix earth with water and you can create a rich palette of colours to paint and draw with.
There is also the wonderful world of compost making – the way small creatures and organisms can turn a pile of food, plant and cardboard scraps into rich compost is magical. I’m excited every time I take compost from my own compost bins at home; and with children it’s
should be a crucial part of their world to discover how things can be recycled and we can live in a more sustainable and respectful way.