Clay gives children wings to let their imagination soar. Source: Getty Images
By Ritika Jain
Almost all children are given clay to play with when they're young, mostly for fun. However, a few take to this wonderful medium and explore their creative side. We spoke with some teachers to find out what benefits come with learning pottery.
Imagination doesn't have any boundaries
"Clay gives children wings to let their imagination soar, especially since this is one class that is not structured. It's a tactile medium that they can have fun with. It also teaches them humility, tolerance and patience since you have to break what you make many times over as part of the practice. At first I used to only teach adults and was reluctant to take on kids but to my surprise, I found that kids adapt faster. There's a funny incident where a kid remarked that since I make them break their work, he'll also break something of mine. Even adults feel bad on being asked to do so but kids are resilient. They know that over time, they can do better. In fact, I learn a lot from my students.
Children as young as four come to me to learn and even stick around for four to five years. We do sculptures, slab work as well as wheel work in groups of five to six kids, and they get to take their creations home after they've been fired (they aren't involved in firing). Around age seven to eight, they still tend to make what they see. The keyword in my class is to be bindaas. The kids learn that it's okay to make whatever comes to them, without any fear. It takes them about a year to let go but that is something all kids should be given--the freedom to do as they please. A child saw a platter at a restaurant and came back and replicated it by herself, from start to finish. That was a delightful experience, to see her confidence and observation skills. We have no theory class but we have quiz time. That's how they learn about the technical aspect of it without feeling like they're being made to sit in a class. We have trivia like the temperature at which bisque firing is done, kids of clays and glazes etc."
- Sujata Bahal, Studio potter @ClayDialogues
Sujata Bahal's pottery class
Young ones get absorbed
"I grew up in Kolkata with clay, watching sculptures being made, collecting clay and trying to make my own. In Delhi, kids are either introduced to it in a class or workshop. We went to Veer Udham Singh school, Patparganj, to conduct a workshop. The overall theme was migration. We discussed how sparrows aren't seen in cities anymore. We showed the kids a few videos too. I taught them how to make a sparrow with clay. One of the kids started making a peacock. Upon asking, he explained that the sparrows have disappeared but he still sees and loves the peacocks in his locality and he would like to do something to preserve them. This sparked an idea and another teacher helped turn it into a comic book. That is how these children's minds work.
With clay, you can engage a kid for long durations of time, as well as have the whole family participate in a group activity. We recently held such a workshop at a DDA park in Rohini. It's interesting to see how all kinds of people become calmer once they get engrossed. It transports you elsewhere. One can experiment purely with colour and form or take it to a conceptual stage, where it borrows from your identity and conveys your ideas. In terms of teaching, I try to engage my students by introducing storytelling in the class… how and when a certain tradition started, an artist's life story, and so on. We all haven't forgotten any stories told to us by our Nani or Dadi, so it's not a bad idea to use audio-visual devices to make a class interesting. Moreover, it has to be interactive. This is how we'll sustain this art through future generations."
- Suvajit Mondal, Visiting faculty at College of Art, Delhi @ThisPotter'sLife18
Suvajit instructing students at a school
One learns to be responsible
"It's something that comes naturally to someone and can't be forced upon anyone. At the end of the day, it's a medium through which you express yourself. I was surprised to learn that there are students who don't like touching clay. They like art in general but don't like to get their hands dirty. In contrast, there are students who wait for their weekly lessons. It was an eye-opener for me because when you find something wonderful and find out that not everyone agrees, you also learn to be more accepting of other people's views. In class, I give the children a theme to work around. They have the freedom to explore and yet something binds them. I get to know who's more creative and who's more technique-oriented. We do more hand-building and since it's in school, the time-frame of a 45-minute class becomes a bit of a challenge. Also, they work in groups because of fewer wheels being available. Interestingly, they prove to be excellent guides to each other, telling their friends how to get their centering done right while waiting for their turn.
Tinni Arora teaching at Pathways school
A grade 9 student generally takes more time to grasp something than a grade 6 student since they are more conscious of their hand movements while younger kids are more free with touching and moulding. Primary school children are even better when it comes to ideas. Students in grades 3-4 are naughty and may need more guidance because in everyday life, people are telling them what can or can't be done. Kids in grade 8 onwards want to be cool and there's a certain level of vanity that comes into play but grades 5-7 are the best. Senior school students are also graded on their final projects. Sometimes, working in 3D actually helps them understand all aspects of dimensions and angles, and in turn, helps to improve their observation and drawing skills. Any art school should teach working with all kinds of mediums. A girl in my class tried to make hands using gloves and cement. Although it was an experiment and she came back to working with clay, having gone into depth also made her more confident. Once they start focusing and going in depth, their ideas can't stop flowing. The discipline also comes automatically. They know that if they forget to wrap their tile in plastic and it dries up, they'll have to start from scratch. So, they are careful in order to meet their submission deadline. They are conscious of wasting, and we try to recycle as much as possible. We did a project where we made kulhads and the students spoke about them being a better choice for the environment than plastic cups."
- Tinni Arora, Teacher at Pathways School, Noida @StudioPotter.TinniArora