After making Superhero Masks and creating Superpowers in Clay, the children asked if we can sculpt whole superheroes next. Wire frame sculptures worked well for us though some of the 3 year old children needed help attaching the first layer of clay while others found their own inventive ways of attaching the clay to the wire. The whole process was quite experimental with children that young and I wasn’t sure if it would turn out too frustrating but everyone seemed to enjoy it and did surprisingly well.
- Clay (this one air dries and is easy to handle for little hands)
- Loose parts (toothpicks, feathers, sequins, foam shapes, pompoms, pipecleaners, wood shapes, beads etc.)
- Colored pencils or markers
- Craft wire
- Wooden blocks
Step 1: Make a wire frame
Since most of the children’s superheroes were animals or persons with special powers they could easily tell me a basic shape that I would then sculpt with wire the day before this project: To make a mounted wire figure frame, wrap a 25 inch long wire around a wood block (we used disregarded building blocks) and bend and twist the ends in any desired shape.
Watch out, the wire is ‘poky’!
Step 2: Start sculpting
Show the children how to take a small amount of clay, pinch it in your fingers until it’s warm and then press it around one part of the wire at a time. There’s quite some engineering involved as well: Pick up a bit or a lot of clay and ask the children if they’d think the wire can hold that much and then show that using too much clay will be too heavy and might bend the wire figure down. Also remember that we want to use our finger tips to smoothen out the clay so that the different pieces won’t fall apart when drying. And you could talk about how older children might offer their help to younger children and how special projects sometimes need a lot of patience.
Step 3: Decorate
Once the children are satisfied with their clay figures, offer them to further decorate their superheroes with loose parts. Show how to lightly press the materials into the clay.
Step 4: Reflect and discuss
After sculpting give your figures names and let the children explain what powers they gave their sculptures. My group invented funny and very thoughtful scenarios for themselves, including protective powers in their sculptures in form of colors or protective gemstones, exploring space – living alone away from home (but including a toolkit to repair the rocket ship to fly back!), exploring power and strength, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and giving shape to ‘bad’ clay guys – still trying out different roles without judgement.
Aren’t they just ADORABLE?
Step 5: Exhibit
Since parents often express concerns about ‘violent’ and ‘rough and tumble’ behavior during superhero play, documenting and/or exhibiting projects like this can be an opportunity to educate about magical thinking and the many reasons and benefits of superhero play as well as our efforts on how to keep superhero play safe. We exhibited our Superhero Masks, Clay Superpowers and Superhero Mixed Media Collages.