What's the best way to direct the creative efforts of preschoolers? What type of crafts allow preschoolers to do most of the work, and also produce beautiful results? Well, if there's one art form that consistently proves itself for preschoolers, it's clay! My advice to preschool teachers and parents is to start with clay-based activities for Holiday themed projects, multi-cultural appreciation, seasonal activities, and overall sensory skill development.

Humans have been sculpting clay for practical and artistic purposes for 1000s of years. And the work of sculpting--pinching, rolling, shaping, squishing--is a perfect way to develop the muscles of the hands. This also sharpens fine-motor coordination needed for writing, painting, drawing and so on.

Here are a few practical tips and recommended supplies for getting started with clay:

  1. Crayola Air Dry Clay- I have tried several brands but none compare with the consistently soft, pliable dough produced by Crayola. It comes in white and terra cotta and can be purchased in quantities of 2.5 lbs, 10lbs and 25 lbs. The clay air dries--no special treatment needed--in 1-3 days (depending on size). If pressed for time, you can also bake the clay in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes (or more depending on size). Allow to cool completely before moving on to a next step.
  2. Homemade Oven-Bake Clay - This recipe is basically a salt-dough: (4 cups flour, 1 cup salt, 1.5 cups of water, 3 TBSP oil). It's super easy and inexpensive. The catch is you must bake this clay or it will crack and crumble. After baking, allow to cool. Then follow my tip #6 on sealing the clay.
  3. Model Magic Clay - I like this multi-color setfrom Amazon, or this set produced by Crayola. This type of clay is ultra light and sponge-like. It's easy to mold and air dries to a light weight foam-like sculpture. It's very fun to marbleize by swirling two colors together. One advantage to this the clay is pre-colored and easy to layer.
  4. Adding Texture - you can skip the Coloring/Painting step and decorate the clay (while still wet) by embedding seeds, beans, lentils, small beads and tiny pebbles. This is so satisfying for preschoolers! Plus it's a great way to teach about pattern and design.
  5. Coloring the Clay-Air dry and oven bake clay can be painted once dry. For preschoolers, I recommend choosing a single color to paint per session. Tempera, Acrylic and Watercolor all work.
  6. Sealing the Clay-an important step is to add a sealant to the final product. Sealant preserves the clay sculpture and adds luster and shine. My favorites are Modge Podge Gloss and Modge Podge Sparkle (which has tiny flecks of glitter mixed in, providing a transparent sparkly finish).

Be sure to check out our free holiday craft bundles, many of which feature clay.

Author Rebecca Faubion is co-Founder of artfulkidsclub.com. Click to learn more about online art curriculum for schools