{PBL} Claywork in the Egypt Project

I hope I can do this morning’s project time justice in this post. Way back when at the start of this project, my eight-year-old, who internalized a different meaning of “project” from school, decided he’d make a pyramid. I worried he’d jumped to this, that he was approaching this backwards, and we talked about it some, but I also figured I’d let this ride. We picked out some air dry clay and he worked with it a bit to get a feel for it. We talked about how he might want to make a model of a pyramid to make sure the different pieces fit together. (Ok, I talked. A little.) We continued to read about Egypt and the other topics he’d mentioned besides pyramids–King Tut, gods and goddesses–and we visited the MFA, which sparked more interests.

Earlier this week, I hung up the hieroglyphs poster I purchased in the museum gift shop and left out the hieroglyph stencil on the art table. My son was excited to come across this and immediately drew his name in his project notebook and surrounded it with an oval to make a cartouche. This morning he decided to use the air-dry clay to do the same thing.

Using the stencil in clay.

Using the stencil in clay.

Here is his full name, before he cut out the oval:

hieroglyphics in clay

Knowing his interest in the gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt, I made sure to point out the statuettes when we came across them in the museum. I wondered if he’d want to try to make one out of clay? I hadn’t taken pictures of any of the statuettes, but we do have several books on Egyptian mythology out from the library, and he looked through those for pictures. He decided he wanted to try to make a cat statuette.

Cat statuette in clay, drying.

Cat statuette in clay, drying.

Although he has played around with this clay before–just exploring, to see what it does–this is the first time he’s tried to make something like this, with different parts. He began by trying to carve out from a chunk of it, then switched to making pieces separately and joining them. I showed him how to scratch the surface of the clay at the join and moisten it, but I’m not sure how well this will hold together. I probably would have worked more of it in a piece, but we’ll see how it goes as it dries. I made sure to tell him: we have plenty of clay. If this first attempt doesn’t end up the way you’d hoped, you can try again, using different methods. That’s how you’ll learn how to get the clay to do what you want.

While all this was going on, my daughter was working with Model Magic, which is what she’d picked out when we went shopping for clay-type stuff. She’s been cutting out pyramid pieces for her mummy (which I haven’t even posted about yet!), but they weren’t dry yet–not that I think Model Magic gets really dry, not like the clay, but it was definitely still not-dry. So she began, rather without much notice from me, to work on…something. I figured she was just, you know, playing with the Model Magic. Occasionally she’d ask my help in cutting a chunk off or she’d ask for a certain tool. I was playing with a water-soluble graphite stick in my notebook and puttering around the studio area, not really paying attention. And this is what she ended up with:

G's map of Lower Egypt in Model Magic.

G’s map of Lower Egypt in Model Magic.

She made a map of Lower Egypt out of Model Magic. Now, you probably can’t see it, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is she sees it. She pointed out the Nile River, and a boat on a hill, ready to sail. She made a couple of small mummies and put them near a statue of a dead person who is not a mummy, probably influenced by a statue we sketched at the MFA. She worked on this for at least an hour. I’ve already noted her interest in maps and mapping and had considered it as a possible project area before she informed me she’d be studying mummies. Lately she’s been asking me to point out Egypt on our wall map of the world, and she’s seen the map of Ancient Egypt plenty of times in books. Now I am thinking I need to find a larger map of Ancient Egypt that I can hang up for her.

In some ways, when these convergences happen, when the kids are following their own interests and clearly doing such deep work, I’m tempted to think that project-based homeschooling is almost cheating on my part. It seems so easy! Then I remind myself that I am doing quite a bit of work documenting, paying attention, providing materials, connecting dots, reminding the kids what they wanted to work on (more so with my son, who is still deschooling; my daughter tells me all the time what she wants to learn next and what she needs from me, step on it, Mama!). I write myself lists so I don’t forget what I need to do. And I still feel like I’m not keeping up.

But a morning like this? So, so sweet.

11 thoughts on “{PBL} Claywork in the Egypt Project

  1. Lori

    i am so happy seeing this. 🙂

    ”In some ways, when these convergences happen, when the kids are following their own interests and clearly doing such deep work, I’m tempted to think that project-based homeschooling is almost cheating on my part. It seems so easy!”

    that balance of “but it’s so easy!” vs. the work you are doing to “keep up” — that is the difference when kids take control of their own learning. you ARE still doing a lot of work, but it’s an entirely different kind. no more forcing, no more hounding — running to keep up, instead.

    love getting to watch this work happen!

    1. amy

      Lori, this amazing stuff tends to happen when I am feeling *most* tired and unsure, like a reminder to just settle already. 😉

      1. Lori

        that’s good — we need those wins to keep us going! (i would say small wins but geez, amy, yours are a big bigger! ;o)

  2. An Everyday Story

    I think this too sometimes, is it really this easy? it can’t be? I think about all the work I put into teaching, how I worked evenings and weekends to plan work for the students. All that time when they could have been doing it themselves 😀 Sometimes I think, it is kind of cheating but then I remember, learning shouldn’t be hard, it should be fun and interesting and full of passion. That’s why we’re doing this right?

    Oh and I am so thrilled to find someone with a 3yr old blogging about this too. We’re starting to build quite the little community, aren’t we, thanks to Lori 😀

  3. Lori

    it feels easy, but really the kids are doing hard intellectual work! 🙂

    it’s a great community. what a nice thing to share with people: helping kids learn authentically. 🙂

  4. Lori

    had to come back and share this quote from roger schank’s new book, “teaching minds: how cognitive science can save our schools”:

    “The real issue, in the end, is interests. Teaching works best when you teach students who agree that they really want to learn whatever it is you have to teach. This means making sure that students are preparing to do things they want to do and actually will do. That makes teaching much easier for all involved. The one-size-fits-all curriculum doesn’t work because one size doesn’t fit all. Let detail-oriented people learn detailed kinds of things. Let artistic people learn artistic kinds of things. Let logical people learn logical kinds of things. Everyone would be much happier and all would enjoy learning a lot more if we simply let people be themselves.”

  5. Michelle

    Doesn’t the word feel so right when you hit that sweet spot?!?! I’m so happy it’s going well. We’re hitting that as the big girl is preparing chatacter profiles and sketching for her novel. I’m going to make a map for mine next week, and I bet the little one would get into that, too. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. Pingback: {PBH} Identifying Interests | kids in the studio

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