Clay, Buttons and Oil Pastels

100_8083  Using clay and buttons as a simple number provocation is another way to incorporate mathematical experiences into your classroom.  Some children will come over and use the oil pastel to try and trace the number and the buttons.  Other children will copy the number and buttons free hand.  And still others may squish the clay and use the buttons to create something entirely different.  Children not so comfortable with textures like clay will push the clay aside and use the oil pastel to draw instead.  These are all things I have seen many children do each time I’ve done this provocation or a similar one.  

100_8084  Provocations like these are meant to get the children thinking.  When asked, “what number is this?”  “Zero!” is always the reply.  Zero is also a circle shape, head, eyes, balls etc.  Children will take this as a number symbol or use any of the other forms it takes to create a unique picture.  Sometimes a child will have a lot to say about his/her creation and other times just the moments spent working with clay and allowing themselves to relax before engaging in other areas that require social interaction will be enough.  What each child gains from a provocation is not always up to the Teacher.  Children will stick to the surface or dive deep with their inquiries, explorations and creations.  As a Teacher I am close by to push the child’s thinking a bit further when I can.

100_8087  I chose an autumn theme for the colors of clay, buttons and oil pastels, but you could always choose the colors you see and hear your children wearing, choosing and telling you they like.  This was my way of incorporating a seasonal color theme without all the “cookie cutter” close-ended units and lessons.  I find it fascinating to be able to set up a provocation and wait to see how the children interpret the meaning for themselves.  And I love being able to scaffold with each child, building onto and opening doorways in their minds for deeper understanding.  The button alone could spark a brief discussion on the buttons a child has on his/ her shirt or coat.  The child may remember a family member like a Grandfather or Grandmother having buttons to play with when they visit.  Children have rich memories and experiences each brings to the classroom and I never know what provocations will spark special memories.  Memories are worth writing down and appreciating.

100_8086  I tried to pick out buttons that were similar in color yet have a different appearance.  Each button is of a different size and has specific surface details.  The picture above has two yellow buttons, yet each is of a different size and has a different number of holes.  The surface textures of both have a different design as well.  These are details I noticed and sometimes the children will notice these on their own and be interested in the differences.  Other times children will not pay attention to these fine details because they do not consider them to be important details.  This is where as a Teacher I can point out and question the children about what they see as being the same and what is different.  Pointing them is a direction I would like them to notice sometimes leads to more questions from the children as to why the buttons are not the same.  It can also spark memories of experiences with other clothing or toy items that are different and the same.  Keep the conversations open and keep them going when you see an opportunity.

100_8085  Color differences are also noticeable between the clay, oil pastel and buttons.  This could lead you to set up more provocations with the color spectrum in mind.  Exploring colors and how color is created could lead the children into a great scientific exploration.  Discuss with the children things in nature that are green and all the different shades of green.  Bring in leaf and grass samples to set up and compare the differences in color.  Since it is Autumn you could also use this time to teach the children about how the leaves turn in the fall and why.  Nothing too heavy because the children are ages three, four and five, but enough scientific information that keeps them asking more questions and keeps the topic open for further investigations.  Let the children lead you in what you add to the curriculum.  Rich learning and strong foundations for further learning happen when we, Teachers and Parents respect the interests and knowledge young children inquire and talk about.


Heidi Scott, BA & MIT   The Marigold School of Early Learning! 🙂

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