A Pottery Wheel for Kids (and Getting Over My Clay Hang Up)

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A Pottery Wheel for KidsIt’s confession time.

I have a bit of a hang-up about clay. Maybe even a big one.

It’s the texture. And the mess. Which is kinda crazy when you consider that I have absolutely no hang up about any other art messes. Paint? Bring it on! Shaving cream? Let’s squirt it all over!

But clay?

Ugh. I don’t even want to think about it.

Maia, on the other hand, LOVES clay. Loves the texture and the mess. So I’m trying hard to get over my clay thing. Trying to at least make it available more and to not worry about the mud in my house.

Maia has always been my sensory girl. As a toddler, she used to take off her shoes every single time we walked past a certain tempting gravel driveway that belonged to a neighbor. Just so she could walk over that gravel in her bare feet.

She doesn’t do that anymore, but still loves sensory experiences. Loves textures. Loves clay.

Clay... and a Pottery Wheel for Kids

I look at her with clay up to her elbows and want to ask, “Wouldn’t you rather just DRAW? With a pencil maybe? On this nice clean sheet of paper?”

But no. That’s me. I’d rather draw. She’d rather squish and squeeze clay.

So I don’t say anything. I’m sure I’m probably passing on enough of my neuroses and bad habits—I can at least make an effort not to pass on the ones I’m aware of.

Besides, I write a blog about children’s art, for crying out loud. I gotta let the girl have her clay.

Pottery Wheel for Kids Clay 01

So when Craft Project Ideas (one of my blog sponsors) offered to send me a few of their products to try out, and I noticed they carried a pottery wheel for kids, I said yes, please. Send one of those along.

That was, oh, a few months ago at least. It took me that long to open the box (confession time again) even though I KNEW Maia would absolutely and totally love the pottery wheel. She’d been asking for one ever since trying out the pottery wheel at our annual Clay Day at the Folk Art Center. (If I had known there was such a thing as a pottery wheel for kids, I might have bought one, but instead I mumbled something about someday and tried to change the subject.)

And it still took me ages to open the box, buy the required D batteries, and set it up in the studio.

I’m not always the best artful parent.

Pottery Wheel for Kids Clay 04

But I finally set the pottery wheel up in time for Maia to explore it with her friend Stella, who has taken pottery classes and camps and knows her way around a pottery wheel. (Note to self: I need to sign Maia up for one of those camps.)

Pottery Wheel for Kids Clay 11

They had a blast. Stella showed her how to use the wheel and they each made small bowls.

Pottery Wheel for Kids Clay 12

And then, I’d love to say that we cleaned up the mess right away and it wasn’t so bad. But I actually had a hard time even looking at the clay mess and have avoided it for the past several days.

Yes, it still looks like a clay pit in the studio.

Pottery Wheel for Kids Clay 14

But, on the bright side, Maia has been using that pottery wheel every day, often two or three times a day. So, I could have just said I left it all out on purpose so that she could have lots and lots of her beloved clay time. Just a little white lie. But yes, she’s loving her clay time and yes, I’m still having a hard time with it, and yes, I’m trying not to let her see that I’m having a hard time with it.

And you all probably think I’m a nutcase right about now.

By the way, the clay that came with the pottery wheel was too hard to use so we used the clay we had on hand (which we buy through Discount School Supply). I understand that you can soften hard clay by putting it in a bucket or plastic bag with some water, letting it sit overnight, and then kneading it. Or something like that… You pottery folks and art teachers out there, please correct me if I’m wrong! Is there a good method for this? I saved the hard clay and would like to try to reconstitute it.

If you’re interested in buying a kids pottery wheel, this one is available in Walmart stores and online via Amazon.

The pottery wheel was sent to us for free by one of my blog sponsors. I was under no obligation to post about it, but thought you would be interested. All opinions expressed are my own.

This post contains affiliate links.

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Comments

  1. says

    Great post. As a kid, I too LOVED clay! I was a kid in the 80′s and back then there too, was a kids pottery wheel. I begged and pleaded and begged some more, and like you, my mom folded! I was so disappointed with it though. The thing didn’t have enough power to actually spin/form the clay. I ended up doing pinch pots, and played with the wheel for imaginary play purposes instead. What is your opinion on the power of this pottery wheel? I of course know it won’t be as strong as a “real” one, but does it do what it’s supposed to?

  2. says

    Jean, I don’t know about you, but for me, I love the sensory experience of the clay when it is moist, but I often avoid “dealing with” clay because I cringe at the dust left in its wake and I do loathe the feeling of the clay as it dries on my skin. That being said, I think you will enjoy this post that speaks directly to the sensory needs that claywork can fulfill, not just in young children, but kids (and adults) of all ages. There is also a related follow-up post.
    Congrats on conquering your aversion for Maia’s sake! :)
    http://artinhand.org/2012/03/04/process-focused-art-not-just-for-toddlers/
    http://artinhand.org/2012/03/11/ive-gotta-hand-it-to-him/
    Enjoy!

  3. says

    I have a clay hang-up too, Jean. Always have. I think I’m afraid of all that work and then firing the clay in a kiln and having it break and fall apart. Not that I have a kiln. Not that you have to fire everything. Ok, it’s a honest and true full-fledged hang-up, and I openly admit it. And guess what? Kids love clay. So …

  4. says

    Oh, and how could I have forgotten this one:
    http://artinhand.org/2012/06/06/awakenings/
    After 11 years of ART IN HAND classes, I FINALLY let the toddlers dive in! It was a huge hit. No big surprise there. I attended a really inspiring workshop on using clay in early childhood settings with Cathy Weisman Topal (Author of “Beautiful Stuff! Learning with Found Materials” and “Children, Clay, and Sculpture” among others) and had been gearing up to do this ever since.
    Also, speaking from 10+ years of working as an art therapist with children and adolescents of all ages, I would have to say that clay was probably the medium with the widest appeal, and I dare say, the broadest therapeutic value on many levels (sensory, cognitive, motor, and emotional). Nuff said. :)

  5. says

    I did pottery in college and it dries out your hands! Someone gave my Daughter the Alex Pottery Wheel and it is horrible. We are actually taking it back (something we really don’t do with gifts). So this wheel really worked? B was really into it, but it didn’t spin fast enough. I couldn’t even touch the clay without stopping it. I even tried playdough. Thinking it was softer. Oh and I am with you on the mess. Paint all over doesn’t faze me, but looking at the clay on Maia’s sleeves is troubling. And really my 2.5 year old daughter has stamped her fee then walked around, no biggie.

  6. says

    Hi Jean, I read this post with glee. Your daughter looks like she’s in heaven with her hands all messy and her wheel spinning. I love clay too. As an art teacher, I did clay projects with all my students K-5. Here are some things that worked for me regarding the mess. Have all your clean up supplies close by and ready before you start. Spend a few minutes explaining and showing your daughter what her clean up responsibilities will be even before she starts: “place your clay creation here to dry, wash your hands next, wet a sponge, squeeze it out, wipe the table, etc.” As you explain the steps, walk around and act them out. You will still need to do some cleanup, but it may be less this way. Then just before it’s clean up time, verbally remind her of the steps.
    Hope this helps. As for the dry clay, you can bring bone dry clay back with water. The plastic bag works well. If the clay gets too wet, just let it sit out for a while until it gets to the consistency you want.
    I loved this post!!!

  7. Liz S. says

    Don’t feel bad, Jean, about your hang-ups. I’m a preschool teacher who positively TWITCHES at the sight of glitter. I love all messy projects and engage in them with enthusiasm alongside my students … unless it involves glitter. I do my best to smile when glitter does appear, but inside I still cringe…

  8. says

    I just gave that to my daughter for her 6th birthday. She has tried clay before on a wheel. Being a ceramicist, I have to let her use it. Though, I shudder at the thought of mess on my floor. I know for sure looking at your Maia’s photographs, my Maya would have to do it at the patio outside. You are very brave to let them use it inside.

  9. says

    Have you ever used FIMO? My husband and 5 year old sculpt things and then bake them to harden. It doesn’t make a mess and my son loves it! And the oven is such low temperature to bake that my son can help take it out and put it in.

  10. says

    ha! love this post! yup, I think we’ve all been there. just need to embrace it. that look of glee on Maia’s face is totally worth it! i took a pottery wheel class a couple years ago – it’s hard!! good for her for loving it!

  11. says

    Would you recommend this pottery wheel? My girls REALLY want one, but I have always been afraid the “kid” ones wouldn’t be that great. and I can’t afford a good one right now.

  12. Ann says

    Good post. I wasn’t afraid of clay until I bought some for my son’s preschool art group and then everything in my home was covered in red mud for days. It really is hard to clean up.
    I find myself going in waves with handling art messes. I really see the value of art and normally my kids have open access to our art cupboard. However, right now I’m newly pregnant and just don’t have the energy for extra messes. So, I try to direct my kids to cutting and pasting, coloring, and outdoor art projects. You just do what you can do, I guess.

  13. says

    Well, that would require that I *really* get over my clay hang up and actually try it out myself! :) Maybe I’d better just do it… Maia and Stella like it fine and haven’t complained. But I imagine the power isn’t anywhere near that of a real pottery wheel.

  14. says

    I wish there were a like button for blog comments! I love Cathy Weisman Topal’s works and have both “Beautiful Stuff” and “Children, Clay, and Sculpture.” Also, I love what you said about clay having the widest appeal…

  15. says

    Hey Jean
    You can always bring back clay to working softness so never throw out any hard clay. Add about 1/2 cup of water to the clay in a plastic bag and seal well with a twist tie. It will take a few days to soften. Pour off any excess water and then you need to wedge. I like to work on pieces of canvas, any heavy material will do (like a placemat)this will stop the clay from sticking to the table. Pick up your lump and throw it down onto the table, makes a big noise (the kids will love that) and continue to do that. This forces all the air out of your clay and helps to get a consistent texture (softness). If the clay is too soft the fabric will also absorb that excess moisture. Store clay in a sealed plastic bag until ready to use. I just shake out the fabric and then use over and over.
    Good luck with your clay adventures!

  16. says

    Ah, I love it! I’m sorry about your glitter thing. Kids love it so much and it sure gets everywhere. After we use glitter, I even find it on my daughters’ scalps! It sounds like your feelings about glitter are about the same as mine about clay… “I do my best to smile…”

  17. says

    I’m not sure, Theresa. It looks and feels like cheap plastic. It’s only $19 though — I don’t know what a real pottery wheel costs (do you?). I’ll have to try it out myself before answering questions about the wheel.

  18. says

    Good for you for knowing what you can handle right now. There’s plenty of time for art messes later… And lots to be said for the less- messy art activities as well.

  19. laura says

    You can always just throw a paint tarp(cut it to your working area and on the floor if needed) on the table, then bring it outside to hang up and hose off if the mess is too much–

  20. laura says

    what brand is this pottery wheel or where didi you get it from—i have to put in on the Christmas list!!—thanks

  21. says

    Great post! I can totally understand your fear of clay and have heard the same from many parents and teachers.
    From my experience teaching toddler art classes, clay is super messy but there are ways to make the clean up easier. One thing I did with young tots was to use the Colorations brand large plastic trays and the goopy, watery clay would be contained. For older kids, hand building doesn’t get as messy because it’s not so watery (but wheel throwing is very watery!).
    Looking at your photos, the best bet for that mess is to have a large bucket/plastic bin full of water to dump everything in afterward (except the motor of the wheel and the table cloth).
    Wipe down the table and parts of wheel, let everything else soak for a bit in the bucket. Later on go back and wipe the tools, etc. in the bucket with a sponge, lay out to dry and dump the clay water outside- Viola! Mess is gone. It takes a little more effort than other projects but it is sooooo worth it.

  22. says

    I love this post! Cracks me up. I, too, have a serious aversion to clay messiness and I cringe at the thought of it – while, of course, knowing that nothing would make my little artists happier. Thanks for sharing!!

  23. Carly says

    I have a HUGE mess hang up and often feel guilty that I don’t do activities with the kids because of the mess. You get points from me for letting Maia use clay!

  24. Trisha Hilberry says

    Great post! I’m currently studying Early Childhood Education in school right now and one of my assignments is to come up with sensory play activities using clay and maleables. I was hoping to find some open ended Reggio Emilia inspired activities. Do you have any ideas or can you lead me to some blogs that might help me out??? I just started following your blog and Facebook page btw, always informative and entertaining! :)

  25. Shelley Besley says

    Hi Jean,
    We play with clay mostly on an outside table or on a deck at playcentre (licensed early childhood centre run by parents) so the mess isn’t to bad. We have lots of adults on hand to help clean up which really helps. We have a book called “Earthen Treasure – Clay play for young children by Shelley Hancock. This is how they explain to recycle the clay.
    “To recycle the clay break into small pieces, put in a bucket cover with water, let them soak several days stirring ocassionally should become sludgy, drain off water pour clay sludge on surface such as hesian to drain, leave to dry, kneading to prevent outside edge drying out, when still fairly wet put in airtight container, store for a while as this improves the texture of the clay”.
    I wish I had read this before I tried it. Mine went mouldy in a tea towel.
    Regards

  26. Barbara says

    I love your candidness about your clay hangup. I feel the same way about paint with my 3 year old – I know she LOVES it, but I can’t bear the mess… I need to let go of it, it’s not like I’m a very neat person, it’s just that’s where my threshold is!
    I’m going to take a deep breath and let her dive in again.

  27. Holly says

    I have this same wheel. My DD’s art teacher was teaching the kids how to work on the pottery wheel, she had said that the kid wheels didn’t work. Like you have been sitting on this thing fearful to try it. I am going to pull the kid wheel out for sure now!!!!! Thanks :)

  28. kathleen says

    Stumbled across your site and was thrilled to see a mom letting her kids have the messy fun of my favorite media– clay.
    Have a few tips as an art teacher, potter and Mom.
    Use a plastic dish pan or bucket to wash hands so that the clay settles in the bucket not clogging your sink. If you don’t use soap this water and clay can be used to remoisten the dried out clay. It works best if you let the clay get bone dry and break it up then slowly add water. If you do that in a good ziplock bag you can knead it in the bag to keep your hands clean.
    Kneading that recycled clay on a piece of sheet rock helps draw out the extra water faster but don’t get the plaster in your clay. A piece canvas type cloth over a board or cardboard also works well.
    Most of my students have been disappointed with those plastic toy potters wheels. I’d suggest doing a coiled pot on it then turning it on to smooth it. Look for classes at studios or special events where kids can use a real wheel and do hand building at home.
    Then if you are really brave Google how to fire the clay in a pit or metal trash can full of leaves and straw. Or find a local studio to kiln fire the clay.

  29. says

    Jean, I love your blog and have used ideas from it for a homeschool art class I do though our co-op for little ones. I have looked at a couple of your posts and thought, wow, how much that girl looks like a friend of ours. And then I read this one and thought wow, her name is even Stella, it’s the same girl we know! I had no idea I was reading a local blog! Very cool :) I am starting a little art group for my toddler with her buddies and we are planning to incorporate some of your great ideas as well. Thank you so much and greetings from Candler!
    - Julie

  30. says

    Found your site looking for advise on how to soften clay for the same toy as my daughter. She was so disappointed that the clay was next to unusable. We had purchased extra clay at the same time and all four were moldy and I threw them. We were able to soften and 1/4 of the clay which she spent and hour and half creating a little cup. And after reading this we, instead of throwing away, put in baggies with water to soften for tomorrow. She is incredibly happy to accomplish her own work of art. We both got our hands dirty and it was an incredible wonderful Mommy and Daughter bonding time.
    I encourage you to get your hands in there and have fun. It is not unlike finger paining or any kind of painting (I get covered when I oil paint)
    Thank you for sharing
    ~Laurie