Lately I’ve been inspired to try more advanced instruction with my students. Deep Space Sparkle has given me endless ideas for painting, drawing, and clay projects. Patty Palmer does an amazing job with her tutorials. She has a wonderful web store complete with pdf booklets covering many topics including “Easy Clay Projects” where I got the idea for the leaf project. I’ve been able to adapt several grade-school appropriate projects to meet the level and ability of my younger students and they seem to enjoy the new challenges I’m presenting.
The first step to making the clay leaf is to roll a slab of clay large enough for the leaf. I used large paint sticks to control the thickness of the slab. Most of my students needed adult pressure to get the ball of clay flat but where eager to do some rolling. I really want my students to be hands on with as much of the process as possible. In the photo below you can see how a mom and student work together.
clayleaf5
For our template we used fresh leaves off of my lemon tree. After we pressed the leaf  down softly with our palm we cut away excess clay leaving only the shape of the leaf. I passed out a variety of tools for the students to use to cut along the leaf. These included: wooden clay knives, toddler safe metal knives, and plastic palette knives. I found the plastic palette knives worked best.
clayleaf7
As students cut out their leaf shape I had them save all the extra pieces in the corner of their tray for later.
clayleaf15
I made home-made engraving tools with mini pencils, paper clips, and masking tape. I gave a little talk to all my classes about using this tool gently and not pressing too hard into the clay. Mark making in clay is instant and toddlers especially like to gouge deep because it’s so gratifying.
clayleaf27
It’s nice to work with a small piece of fabric under the clay so that it doesn’t stick to the tray or table.. (note the palette knife still in this student’s left hand)
clayleaf22
After carving in patterns and texture students were passed the tiniest bit of water to smooth the edges. I exampled dipping one finger into the cup and running my finger along the choppy edges to smooth away and roughness. The slippery sensation of water on clay is so enticing that many students naturally went from one finger to their whole hand and sometimes smoothed out the entire leaf.
clayleaf26

For a fun curved look you gently fold the leaf over the edge of a bowl and let the clay dry in that position. We etched each child’s initials into the backside of the leaf.

vday29
No matter what age my students are it’s very important that their be a balance of experimentation time with guided instruction.  Free play time with art materials fosters problem solving and critical thinking skills, fuels creativity, imagination and feels good!
clayleaf25

Clay and water = slippery fun.

clayleaf21
Part of the magic with clay is within the feeling of the material and part of it is in the magic of the tools.
clayleaf19
After the clay dried for a week painted each leaf with Biocolor paint from Discount School Supply. Biocolor has a very smooth silky texture when wet. It dries quickly and the color stays vivid.
vday5
Some students were very productive with their clay creations. This is the work of a five year old student. You can see a combination of leaves and other imaginative creatures along with a pinch pot.
vday21

I love how students chose all the colors of the rainbow and didn’t stick to green!

vday23