What we're doing wrong and how to fix it.
Have you ever felt glad to see an old friend? Maybe you haven't been in touch for years-but that doesn't matter. You're glad to see each other- and there's something, difficult to put your finger on, that hasn't changed. Last summer I went on a road trip to the Island of Iona, off the West coast of Scotland. I stopped off outside Edinburgh to see my friend Sarah Long, who I hadn't seen for 20 years. When we met up, shared food, and sang some songs it was like we had never been apart. When somebody touches us deeply, it doesn't matter how often we see them. Whatever touches us: a place, a person, a song, becomes part of us.
The sense of touch is the first sense to develop in the womb. It is our oldest and most instinctive way of knowing. All along the surface of the skin we are sensitive. Through touch we respond to the world. It begins in the womb. At just 3 weeks after conception, a baby's sense of touch develops.
Research done by Montagu (1978) with a single light hair stroke on the embryo, showed that just before 8 weeks gestational age, “the first sensitivity to touch manifests in a set of protective movements to avoid a mere hair stroke on the cheek”.
Skin sensitivity then extends to:
• The genital areas by 10 weeks gestational age,
• The palms by 11 weeks gestational age,
• The soles of the feet by 12 weeks gestational age,
• The abdomen and buttocks by 17 weeks gestational age and
• The entire body with the exception of the top of the head by 32 weeks gestational age.
But it doesn't stop there. Throughout life we can develop our sense of touch, the grandfather of all our senses. Clay modelling is an excellent way for children to continue the journey. Clay wakes up the hands: it is squidgy, wet, and slippery. We can mould and shape it easily. We can have fun. And in a playful way, begin to notice what shapes naturally appear. Clay modelling develops our sense of touch. In a world dominated by plastic: phones, toys, computers. We can lose sensitivity. Plastic feels the same. It doesn't breath or have the movement of natural materials like wood, wool or stone. It is dead and deadening.
Children need to play with with natural materials. They respond to human touch in a way that plastic doesn't. This is reassuring for a child. Look how happy children are on the beach playing with sand. They can do it for hours. Anxiety reduces when we are part of the world. Playing with sand, clay or sticks helps a child feel at home in the world. It is vital for a child to feel that the world is safe, good and beautiful. And a child can get this reassurance easily- digging a hole in the ground and filling it with leaves, climbing a tree, splashing in a stream. Simple contact with nature makes children happy.
Clay modelling is contact with nature.
We can't all be at the beach, all the time. Somehow, children can't just muck around outside like I did when I was a boy. There are too many cars, there is too much fear, there are not enough wild spaces. Children have been cut off from nature like never before. Is it any wonder that childhood depression, anxiety, and insomnia are at critical levels? We can help our children by bringing nature into our homes. Clay modelling, painting, and crafts are all simple ways of playing in nature. If you can't get to the beach, bring the beach to you.
How do you work with clay? I think it's best to have fun and and just enjoy the texture of the clay responding to your touch- make shapes. Avoid trying to make definite things. Playing with clay is the ultimate doodle. Once children are comfortable with doodling, some simple exercises can be introduced.
How to make a bird.
1. Make a ball
2.Shape ball into an egg.
3. Squeeze bottom of egg.
4.Lift out head and pinch beak.
5. A simple bird (Instuctional video)
Clay modelling is one way of keeping in touch. I think that we need as many ways as possible in this modern crazy world. It takes a village to raise a child. We have to create the sense of safety, familiarity and belonging that a village provides, wherever we live. Contact with nature is essential for children. They need to know that they belong here on this earth. That they have a part to play. That they can play. By offering children contact with nature, through arts like clay modelling, we let them play in the world. They feel safe, they can relax-then they can grow in confidence and strength-making contact with each other, with nature and with themselves.