Play with Clay: A Froebelian Approach

Project author:

Project summary:

Introducing clay as part of core provision in Early Learning and Childcare



The rationale for the project was:
• To improve children’s creative experiences
• To develop practitioner’s skills and competencies in line with Froebelian principles, focusing on supporting play responsively through sensitive interventions and developing practical expertise through reflective practice.

Quality assurance processes indicated that appropriate resources and experiences were not always being provided and that interactions with children could improve to extend their thinking and further their learning and development.


Realising the Ambition tells us that ‘Experiences on offer should reflect an environment of open-ended possibilities in which children can feel intrinsically motivated to explore and investigate through play’.

Clay is one of Froebel’s occupations that is not usually part of the core offer for children and is normally introduced through adult directed activity that focuses on product rather than process. Developing practitioner skills and confidence in using clay was essential to ensure that practitioners valued clay as an open-ended resource that could support all areas of the curriculum, promote creativity and enable children to develop cognitively through the acquisition of knowledge and developing skills. The project afforded the opportunity to revisit Froebelian principles consider how these could underpin and develop practice within a specific area of provision.


The project began with an on-line training session drawing on the work of Dr Lucy Parker. This provided an overview of Froebel’s principles, gifts and occupations and the benefits of clay as an open-ended medium in supporting children’s creativity, and holistic learning and development. The critical role of the Froebelian practitioner was explored, enhancing play through valuing creativity and children’s efforts whilst ‘ensuring that the child is at the centre and leading the curriculum’ (Brown in Parker, n.d.). This was particularly important for practitioners at the beginning of their career with no prior knowledge of Froebelian practice.

A practical session provided advice for introducing clay into daily provision, interwoven with demonstration of techniques which gave participants time to explore clay for themselves, develop confidence and learn new skills. This was necessary at the outset so that practitioners could then draw on this in their work with children.

Following training, practitioners across local authority Early Learning and Childcare settings introduced clay in their nurseries. During the implementation process and over the following weeks were encouraged to document observations of children in their play and to reflect on their role as they supported the play.

“ I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Froebel and how [we] can utilise clay as a means of allowing children to communicate.”

Early Years Practitioner


All practitioners spoke with enthusiasm and confidence about the positive impact on children’s experiences. Children were enabled to make choices with time to explore and investigate the clay and access a range of appropriate tools, and open-ended materials including natural items.

Children were deeply engaged and able to take forward their ideas through intrinsically motivated, sustained activity, demonstrating high levels of enjoyment and displaying persistence in problem solving. Practitioners observed that the Forms of Knowledge, Beauty and Life were all evident throughout children’s play, supporting learning and development across the curriculum. There were many examples of children using clay in a symbolic ways ‘making connections between their inner world of feeling and ideas and their outer world of things and experiences’ (Tovey, 2017:3).

Practitioners’ confidence in introducing clay and supporting children’s technical skills increased significantly. They were able to critically reflect on their role and relate this to Froebelian practice referring to themselves as ‘play partners’, helping children to explore their ideas, supporting play and learning and where appropriate modelling techniques giving ‘freedom with guidance’ (Bruce 2021:104).


Practitioners are becoming more aware of themselves as knowledgeable, nurturing, skilful educators whose intentional and reflective practice is informed by observing children. Children were highly motivated, taking forward their ideas through intrinsically motivated, sustained activity which evidenced the Forms of Knowledge, Beauty and Life, supporting all aspects of learning and development. To support and sustain developing approaches and develop a shared pedagogy future training could reflect Froebelian principles.

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Karen Petrie
    Karen Petrie
    24 May 2022 at 10:14 am

    Your project shows how well you took the staff on your journey of introducing clay to the children. It is something you don’t always see available to children but such a missed opportunity for learning so it is good to read how much your staff could see the benefits of using clay.

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