How to Make Pinch Pots with Elementary Students
Pinch pots are fun to make and can be turned into so many different things; they are really a great art project for kids of all ages. I was a little leery of doing pinch pots with my youngest students (I have only done clay with middle school or older students before), but even the kindergarteners had a blast making them. I now believe this is a great project for any age student. I use air dry clay in my classroom since I do not have a kiln. It makes for a little less mess than regular clay and less water, and less teacher time (no need to load and unload a kiln), also.
I teach once a week at my school, and this allows for plenty of drying time for the pots. We create them in one class period, then we paint our pots the following class period. The students can then take them home on the third class period. I do this as a Mother's Day art project and tell the students they can give these as presents for Mother's Day or for another special occasion of their choice. Some students have chosen to do these as presents for birthdays and that is fine with me, too. I do think if the students have a specific person or purpose in mind when making an art project, they will really put their heart into and try their best. It makes them much more invested in their art.
I started by figuring out how much clay each student was going to get. The amount I had was enough for each student to have about a 1/3 of a pound. I gave the kindergarten students slightly smaller balls of clay and the fifth grade students, the oldest, slightly larger amounts of clay. I was not actually weighing it out with a scale, but I just cut the clay blocks to give me the right number of pieces that I needed for the students. I also wanted some for me to use as examples for each class. I cut the clay using yarn, which is pretty easy, you just have to pull it through the clay from both sides fairly evenly towards you. I use about a foot long section of yarn to do this.
The older grades are given squares of clay in the proper size and had to first form it into a ball. This helps warm the clay up and makes it more pliable and easy to work with for the students. Air-dry clay tends to run a little on the stiffer side. For the younger grades, I form the clay into ready-made balls. They need to play with it a little bit to warm it up and make it softer, but the younger grades have a hard time making a square into a ball so I already have it done. I show them how to roll the balls on the table and then how to form the clay with their hands if they are having a hard time. Some kids will need a little more help than others.
The easiest way to make a pinch pot is to have the students put their thumbs in the middle of the ball and their fingers around the outside of the ball. They then can start pinching the clay between their thumbs and fingers as they spin it around, opening the ball up into a pot or a cup. Some students have made cups and mini-containers with lids. I suggest the pot be used to place rings, earrings, necklaces or change into. The students should not to make the walls or the bottom of the pot too thin, or it will not hold together well and the walls will flop over. We use plastic clay tools and craft sticks to create designs in the clay.
Some of the older students made small, decorative balls of clay and ring centers (to put rings on) for the pots. Make sure to have the students score the clay to roughen it on both pieces that they are attaching. Then have them add a dab of water so the pieces stick together well. They will also want to flatten the bottom of the pot so it will sit well on a tabletop, if it isn't already flat. The students may also want to smooth the cracks out of the clay. To do this, they should dip a fingertip into a bowl of water. That is all the water they need to to smooth out the clay. If they use too much water the clay will really soften up and become messy.
Then the pots need to air dry for at least 24 hours. The thicker ones will take longer to dry. We use tempera paint to color the pots, or watercolor paint which will give you more muted colors. I have the kindergarten students use markers to color their pots, it really is easier for them. If I had a sink in my art room, I might consider letting the kindergarteners use paint, but it is too far down the hall as it stands right now. I will be adding pictures of the final painted and colored pinch pots to this Hub in a couple of days. I hope if you try making pinch pots with students, your kids love the project as much as my students do!