The Benefits of Clay

What do we see when we observe children using the clay?

Project author:

Project summary:

An observational study looking at the benefits of clay experiences within the nursery setting, specifically looking at what practitioners observe when children are using this valuable resource.


Using careful observations, we aim to highlight the value of Clay as an open-ended resource, and we hope that as children explore clay with the company of a knowledgeable practitioner, they will be able to express their own ideas and make connections with the world around them through their own symbolic representations

Clay is often used in therapeutic approaches to encourage exploration of feelings, opportunities to transform and come to terms with these. Clay can be used in many ways for sensory exploration, to create functional and decorative objects and to express ideas. Using clay can also support the development of emerging skills relating to literacy and communication. We will investigate what practitioners observe in this area and hope to highlight Clay as a resource that can have open ended possibilities and benefits.


The setting had already acknowledged that clay was an under used resource and had embarked on a year- long project exploring the use of and the benefits of clay.

It is the intention of this project to explore the benefits and value of clay with a particular focus on how clay experiences can support the Froebelian principle of the holistic nature of the child’s development through this open-ended resource.

Throughout this last year the staff team have undertaken training and shared reading to enhance their knowledge and confidence in providing this valuable resource to the children in the setting.

This practitioner enquiry hopes to focus on the observations of children exploring the clay, we hope to see practitioners taking a different approach to observing children’s emergent literacy and symbolic representations and understand that these can be supported and encouraged using Clay as a resource.

We will take a sample of detailed observations of children exploring the clay. We will use our knowledge of child development and Froebelian principles to ensure that the daily opportunities to explore clay will take into account the uniqueness of every child and support their potential.


The staff team will have had the opportunity to read and discuss the Clay pamphlet provided by the Froebel Trust and be given the opportunity to reflect on this and clay training they attended as part of another project.

Clay will be available every day both indoor at outdoors. Children will have the opportunity to explore this resource throughout the day.

As children freely explore the clay, the area will be supported by a practitioner who can support and enquire as required.

Over the period of 6-12 weeks observations will be made of the children using the clay.

The overall sample will be balanced for age, gender, ethnicity, first language and any additional support needs will be identified. There will be opportunities for staff to share their observations with each other and parents, on the learning journal format.


Throughout this project I found it beneficial to revisit Froebelian Principles with the particular focus on clay. As mentioned previously this was un under used resource within the nursery, mainly being thought of as a therapeutic resource or being used as a fixed purpose.

Being able to highlight clay as one of Froebel’s 20 gifts and it benefits has supported staff’s understanding of the benefits of this resource and over the last few months the following is what have been the main findings of this Practitioner research.

Supported by myself and the project leader the staff are now aware of the benefits of clay and how it can holistically support children’s exploration and development.

Clay is now readily available every day in a designated part of the workshop area. It is part of our daily continuous provision both outdoors and indoors. Children use this resource regularly and there are some children who will return to the resource several times a day and use it to explore their own skills and share this with the practitioners who are readily available in the area.

With the support of joint research and reading, the staff team have developed more confidence when setting up the area, supporting and observing the children using this resource.

The observations that staff have taken of the children in this area have been of a high quality and by sharing these with parents and carers it has highlighted the benefits of clay to the wider Nursery community. It has also been noted that observations are becoming more holistic and take into account many emerging skills and staff are supporting children to recognise this.

It has been wonderful to see that there now appears to be a better understanding from the staff team of what they are observing when children are exploring the Clay and, as stated earlier it is wonderful to see this occupation being used in many ways by the children to share their stories, skills and feelings.


Having the opportunity and the time to focus on one area and occupation has really supported the understanding of the benefits of clay not only to the staff team but also to the wider nursery community.

Clay is now part of the daily provision and staff value this open-ended resource and are able to observe the benefits of this valuable resource. The clay will continue to be part of our workshop provision and will always be available for the children to explore.

We have discussed providing clay more readily as part of our outdoor provision and nature play sessions and this will be explored over coming year as part our on-going research regarding our outdoor provision.

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. Fiona Canning
    Fiona Canning
    31 May 2022 at 4:47 pm

    I am keen to read more about clay and have it as a daily staple in my setting. It’s nice to hear that that the staff in your setting could see the progression in learning and emerging skills the children were displaying.

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