To introduce children to the art of working with clay, try air-dry, or self-hardening, clay. You can purchase air-dry clay products, but you can also make it yourself. Children find this type of clay easy to handle, and parents and caregivers appreciate that it doesn't require any special products for gluing or finishing. Leave air-dry clay pieces out at room temperature to allow all the moisture in the clay to evaporate. It dries to a hard, durable surface within a few days, depending on the weather and the size and thickness of your item, and it retains its shape permanently after drying. If the kids don't want to wait that long to paint and finish their pieces, you can accelerate the process of evaporating the moisture from the air-dry clay by baking it at a low temperature for about an hour.
Things You'll Need
Aluminum baking sheet
Step 1: Preheat the Oven
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not be tempted to set the temperature higher in an attempt to speed the drying process. If the clay dries too quickly, it will crack.
Air-dry clay cannot be dried in the microwave because it will heat too quickly, causing the item to crack or break apart.
Step 2: Prepare the Baking Sheet
Trim a piece of parchment paper to size and lay it on the aluminum baking sheet.
Since some air-dry clay is not food-safe, so put the clay on a baking sheet dedicated to crafts and not used for food.
Step 3: Transfer the Clay Pieces
Use a spatula to pick up the clay pieces and lay them on the baking sheet so they're not touching. The clay will not spread during the baking process the way cookies do, but it's still a good idea to give each item at least an inch of space all the way around.
Step 4: Place in the Oven
Place the baking sheet on the middle rack in the oven. Leave the oven door slightly ajar so you can peek at your items and monitor their progress, and also to allow moisture to escape as the items dry and keep them from overheating.
Step 5: Monitor the Drying Process
The amount of time your pieces need to dry will vary depending on their size and thickness. The color of the surface will visibly lighten as the piece dries. Check your items every five minutes, and turn thick items over periodically to allow them to thoroughly dry. Once the surface of your item looks dry on all sides, remove the baking sheet from the oven.
Step 6: Finish Your Pieces
Allow your clay pieces to cool for at least 30 minutes before working on them. Once they're cool, paint them with acrylic craft paints if desired.
Items made with air-dry clay are neither watertight nor food-safe. Use your air-dry clay creations for decorative purposes only.