The Language of Clay: Exploring an infinite resource from Papatūānuku

language of clay

Clay is a natural resource from Papatūānuku (mother earth) and gives multiple opportunities for learning.

Katja, our Bear Park atelierista, expresses that “one of the greatest joys comes when we can engage both our brains and our hands simultaneously. Being creative with natural materials connects us holistically—in mind, body and spirit—with who we are, what we do as humans and where we come from”. In the Morepork room, we believe the language of clay to be a powerful tool for communication and ensure that we are offering it on a daily basis for exploration.

Clay provides children with a multitude of learning opportunities. Children are gaining an understanding of the schema of transforming—the understanding that something can be manipulated and changed. They are also exploring the scientific concepts of comparing and contrasting as they begin to explore the different textures of wet, dry, hard or soft clays. As the children work in small groups, they are able to observe their peers with the clay. Through the language of clay, the children are able to learn new techniques that can be tested as they form their own theories around the clay.

exploring clay

Our Early Childhood Curriculum, Te Whāriki, emphasises the importance of giving children the opportunity to know that their contribution is valued and to collaborate in learning alongside both peers and educators, contributing their strengths and interests. Through experiences with clay, children are able to view themselves as learners and recognise their own ability to problem solve and understand the world around them.

“Children learn through play—by doing, by asking questions, by interacting with others, by setting up theories or ideas about how things work and trying them out, and by the purposeful use of resources. They also learn by making links with their previous experiences. The attitudes and expectations that are formed at an early age will continue to influence a child’s learning throughout life.”
(Ministry of Education, 1996, p.82)


Clay is an amazing medium to work with, as it stimulates children’s curiosity, as well as fosters their imagination. When working with clay, it becomes a whole-body experience and it encourages children to engage with the medium in this way. Clay also offers children a multi-sensory experience, as it can be wet or dry, and hard or soft.

Whilst children explore the endless possibilities of clay, many new neurons and synapses in the brain are being generated when they are engaged by the tactile and visual feedback that the clay provides. As children manipulate pieces of clay, they are also developing their large and fine motor skills, as well as enhancing their hand-eye coordination.

language of clay

“We sometimes forget just how astonishing it is to make something that wasn’t there before…To make something appear on a surface – a mark, a line, a shape – is magic. Each mark is a surprise.”
(Kolbe, 2005, p.9)

According to Ursula Kolbe, “clay work is just as important for young children as drawing or painting as it enables them to express, explore and communicate their feelings and ideas. Clay is fascinating to manipulate and has great potential for active exploration involving sight, touch and smell” (Kolbe, 2005).

Within the Morepork room, we have delved into an investigation using clay as one of our mediums to explore the concept of ‘formations’ through. As teachers, we have been observing the children’s explorations with the intent of “how do children collaboratively create and interact with formations.”

language of clay

As part of our investigations into clay, we noticed the children creating new formations when using the clay alongside recycled bottle caps. As the children’s explorations continued, we have provided the children with a large circular slab of clay on the table, that is on offer throughout the course of the day. This has enabled children to revisit their work and the formations they created, as well as offering them time to recreate and transform their creations. Through these experiences with the language of clay, the children have been collaborating with their peers, developing skills such as problem-solving, persevering with difficulty and determination to achieve set goals.

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