Photos by Stephanie Harbour



Make [modeling] a clay cow


Students at different ages interpreted the cow sculpture to reveal different

Stages of Development

Can you match the cow clay sculptures with the stages listed below?

See the cow drawings below and match them to the correct stage.









Elesse Brown studied children's claymaking in 1975 and again ten years later (1984). She asked children to make a man in clay. Stokrocki (1988) studied children in a preschool class making clay forms and found them building forms, like snowmen and towers quite naturally.

Scribbling: Children, aged 3-4, can make coils, snakes, and mud-pies (Brown, 1975). Children, by age five can pile up shapes like a snowman. The details are few and the child completes the work verbally. While piling ball shapes, Bo exclaimed that his clay piece was "a castle with front door, back door, and lots of windows" (Stokrocki, 1988). Seriation: Children may make simple "cookie forms," attach them in a row [seriation}, and add pinched pieces and finger prints.

Preschematic: At this stage, forms are recognizable but crude and parts may be floating. They tend to draw with the clay. They can make a head with eyes and a mouth and limbs sticking out.

Schematic: By the time children are 6-9-years-old, they can make typical standing objects or those that roll on their backs. Many 6 & 7 year-olds "include necks, hair, hats" (Brown, 1975) and in this case, utters and horns are exaggerated.

Dawning Realism: Youth around the age of nine start to become interested in more facial details and patterns, sexually characteristics, and costumes. Clay forms will stand and be look realistic.

Naturalism: By the time, children reach high school, you expect details to increase with figural muscles, background, props and realistic proportion. This may not be the case, because young people may interpret a work symbolically. You may see part of a man or animal in a landscape. College students will also be in this stage, depending on their art training.

Inhibiting dissonance: Older folks often get frustrated with art materials at first, if their experiences have been few. They are afraid to take risks. Eventually, with practice their work will become less rigid and become more expressive, as the cow lying down (44-year-old woman).

Exceptions: These stages are only guidelines and students overlap them. Some people such as prodigies go through these stages faster than others; other people are better at drawing or making certain configurations than others (such as cars); still other people are interested in the mere essence of a thing. Thus, a person will complete their form with words or contexts that make their work more conceptual--the idea is more important than the form. Naturalism may not be the ultimate aim of development. Thus adults slip into symbolic images at times.

We advocate that people work with clay often to improve in skill (Brown,1986). They can start flat,with relief, and build up until figures stand in-the-round. Some people are better at drawing and others working three-dimensionally. Then, you can mix your drawing and media. Children can work with self-hardening clay or reuse plasticene clay (oil-based). Real clay--earhenware is fairly inexpensive and needs to be fired in a kiln.

Warning: Due to problems with toilet training, some children will not touch brown clay. Give the child a different type of clay, such as bright play-dough (Stokrocki, 1988).



Brown, E. (1975). Developmental characteristics of clay figures made by children from age three through the age of eleven. Studies in Art Education, 16(3), 45-53.

Brown, E. (1984). Developmental characteristics of clay figures made by children: 1970-1981, Studies in Art Education, 26(1), 56-60.

Brown, E. (1986). A critical need: Children and clay. School Arts, 12-13.

Stokrocki, M. (1988). The development of children through clay modeling, School Arts, 57 (9), 34-35.


Copywright Mary Stokrocki 2003