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Ceramic finger puppets.

Divide one twenty-five pound bag of clay among forty first and second graders and what do you get? How about clay finger puppets? Working in clay is an excellent way for young children to explore ideas and develop hand-muscular coordination, but it can be hard to expose all your students to this medium if you have a limited budget. Puppetry is an exciting art project, and creating ceramic puppet heads does not require a large amount of clay. My young students were thrilled with the experience of forming and shaping their clay to create finger puppet heads instead of making the usual first and second grade pinch pots.

At the beginning of this activity, each of my students received a small piece of clay and rolled it into a ball. They then hollowed out the ball with their fingers. They took care to fit two fingers into the hole, thus allowing room for shrinkage and fabric. I demonstrated how to mold and form clay to develop the eyes, eye sockets, nose, ears and mouth. We discussed how hair can be made by etching into the clay, adding on small pieces of clay or gluing on yarn hair after the piece is fired. Each student then fashioned a finger puppet head and set it aside to dry.

The following week I demonstrated how to apply underglaze. (This can be done before or after the bisque firing.) We used very small brushes and talked about how underglaze should be applied carefully to the facial features. One first grader suggested that we "put the puppets on our fingers while we glaze." When the underglaze dries the children can dip the heads in clear glaze, or the teacher can spray glaze the heads after school. Make sure that the bottoms of the heads are free of glaze or they will fuse to the kiln shelves during the firing procedure.

By this time, the children's puppets were beginning to form personalities. We talked about what types of voices the puppets would have and the kinds of clothes they would wear. Then we designed the puppets' outfits. The children traced the plastic lid of a coffee container on the back side of the fabric with a thin marker, and cut out the round shape. Glue was then applied to the center of the cloth and the fabric was poked into the hollow area in the head. The children then decorated the puppets' clothing with sequins, small buttons, ribbons, bows, beads, yarn, etc.

The children can stage puppet shows as a follow-up to this activity. The lesson stimulates young minds and helps students to develop a positive attitude towards clay. The students have a great time and are very proud of the art work they create.

Natalie Cohen was a student teacher at the Thurston Elementary School in Ann Arbor Michigan at the time this activity occurred.
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Author:Cohen, Natalie
Publication:School Arts
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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