Clay Doctor

Do you ever feel like you are the “Clay Doctor?”… No “surgery” of broken that you can’t handle?.. I sure do!

Recently, after a month of clay on display, I was ready to send home clay pieces with all of my students.  I have struggled over the years with how to safely and EFFICIENTLY send home clay with 500 students at two schools.  There is absolutely no way I can purchase hundreds of dollars worth of bubble wrap to get this job done, and I am always looking for ways to maximize and not waste instructional time….  So, lets explore together other options for sending home those precious little ceramics.

Option 1- Bag it Up

The first method I try, which does work well, is the small paper bag. This doesn’t exactly protect the clay from breakage, but does send it home in a nice little package.  My hope is, that by sending it in a stapled bag with a message, it will at least not get shoved in the bottom of  backpack, but be handled with a little more care. It makes it seem like something very “special” is coming home.

The downside to this? It takes time. Whether you as the teacher bag these up yourself or have the students help you, it does take time and organization to successfully carry this out. I don’t manage to use this method with all of my groups, however, I do with the younger grades and with no exceptions, I make sure Kindergarten goes home this way.

Option 2: Send it Home “Naked”

Sometimes the clay pieces are odd sized. Sometimes I am short on time. Sometimes I just hand back the clay “naked”.. No packaging, no bag, no protection. I lecture and lecture. I tell the students to put this in their bag in a safe pouch in their backpack, maybe wrap their scarf around it or put it inside their shoe. Sounds pathetic, but I am trying instill some responsiblity in the kiddos, too.  This is their precious clay, they must find a way to get it home safe.  Life is not protected by bubble wrap.  Most of the time this works…Except for one instance this year…

I get a call from a parent.  It goes something like this “Johnny’s art came home today. Broken. If you just would have called me, I would have come and picked it up so it would have come home safe”… Uh. I tried to explain it was the student’s responsiblity to get the clay home safe, and we talked about this in class. I also tried to explain that I had 500 parents at two schools and it would be hard to call each and every one and let them know it was clay take home day. You get the picture.

….. Fast forward two days later, another teacher at our school saw this same student slamming his backpack on every library shelf as he walked by… So you tell ME how that clay got broken.  Am I being to harsh when I say that at some point kids need some personal responsibility without mommy or daddy covering their every move?  Enough said on the situation.

Option 3: Conferences and Concerts

Some teachers set up all the clay in their art room during conferences or during a concert.  Then, parents can swing by and pick it up when they are in the building. Great idea in theory. The reason I don’t do this, is because too often you get half of the parents to show, and half to not show and you are STILL stuck with the task of hunting down the remaining stray clay parents/students and potentially sending it home no safer then it would have been before.

And when the worst happens…..

This was brought into me one day last week:

Poor Kid.  She was so excited to share her pot with her mom (who teaches at our school) she ran up to her mom with her pot in her hands. Tripped. The pot flew to the floor, bounced (yes bounced) up and smacked her in the forehead and then shattered. Destructive, I tell ya! She had a HUGE goose egg and her pot looked worse than the above shot. This is me gluing it back together at about the halfway point.  I returned it with a band-aid on it. All better now! I don’t mind helping out a student by playing “Clay Doctor”… Maybe I am too nice.

So, this brings me to the ultimate question, which I am still searching for the best answer on:

How do you safely and efficiently send home ceramics pieces with your students?

Please share, I am sure we all have some pretty creative solutions and can really help each other out.

(Pssstttt- Can’t get enough of the clay talk? Check out my posts on Clay Week, which chronicles the process I use to organize and orchestrate working with clay and 500 students, along with a few great lessons.)

Now if I could just figure out how to send it home…

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • You have got to be kidding. A parent called you because you didn’t alert them to the fact that a clay project was coming home? That’s a new one on me. I guess it is wonderful they care about that sort of thing. I wish more of my students’ did. But really? jan

  • Karen E

    Part of what I teach is ones own responsibility with ones own art work. When I hand work back to go home, it is the students responsibility to see that it gets there. I understand helping the student that was excited and tripped, but you need to remember, you are their teacher not their babbysitter.

    • I agree, teaching responsibility is a life skill that is oh so important. There is always a struggle between that humanistic approach to teaching and the business like approach. I also get very annoyed with “lazy” mentalities, which is why I want to go above and beyond for my students. How much is too much. It’s all about the balance, I suppose.

  • you could also have the kids wrap their projects in layers and layers of newspaper and then put it in a bag. You could try to ask for donations of bubble wrap and packing materials. I think you are doing the best you can though. I lazy with that quite frequently and just try to tell the kids to carry their projects separately. Most of the kids get picked up by their parents and drive home in a car, so it’s not a huge deal at my school.

  • Calling parents to alert them ahead of time?!? Have never heard that in 30 plus years of teaching – Congratulations – you win the best EVER its-the-teacher’s-fault Reassignment of Blame Award!
    Here are some ways I handle sending clay home:
    1. I tell the kids NEVER EVER put it in your backpack – they worked too hard & too long to have it bopping around inside their backpack. Put your backpack on, then carry your pot/sculpture holding it with 2 hands, thumbs on top.
    2. With the littlest ones, I wrap in newspaper, burrito style (newspaper sheet diagonal to artwork, wrap a little, tuck in left side, wrap a little, tuck in right side, wrap until finished, long piece of masking tape all the way around, student name on masking tape). Students and classroom teachers are reminded NOT to unwrap until they get it home & NOT to put it in their back packs.
    I get very few reports of breakage this way…Love your idea of sending home a note with the work – I always mean to do that & then run out of time!

  • Karen E

    I should have also shared that before they leavey class with their clay pieces we go over how to carry them, not to set them onwirthe edge of th

  • Karen E

    The edge of their desks, and thar they will break easily.

  • We do pretty well with our clay projects. 2 pieces of tissue paper…”Start in a corner and wrap and roll.” “Wrap it for cushion not cuteness.” And just as they are about to walk out my door, I say…”If you come to me tomorrow and tell me that your clay broke, I WILL cry with you, but I will not help you glue it back together.” :)

  • Christine Patete

    This is going to sound a little spoiled maybe but I have a mom who works in a medical office and their medicine arrives bubble wrapped. She now saves it up for me and brings in a garbage bag full every couple of weeks. I have some great mom volunteers who I send an email plea out to “please help bubble wrap clay projects for a safe trip home”. I am sure there are still pieces that get tossed in the bottom of their backpack, thrown in the trunk of the car, and dumped at the bottom of their basement steps and are no longer intact by the time it gets to mom and dad but it’s the best I can do.

  • I just love parents who make those kinds of ridiculous calls! They give me a huge bellylaugh at the end of a stressful day. How about having the school secretary save her paper shredder paper for you? You could pack that in the paper bags with the projects. Just a thought:)

    • You know, a few years ago the call would have really upset me, but I think I am getting a thicker skin. All in a days work. You can’t win them all!

  • I have spent a lot of time today shredding junk mail and the like so it got me thinking that shredded paper might offer enough cushion if pieces were wrapped in newspaper and placed on top of the shredded paper in a small bag. I would have done the same as you and glued the pot back together. I’ll never forget the disappointment when I was 5 and broke a clay piece when I came home with it. It crumbled beyond repair and my teacher was so wonderful to let me remake it the next day.

  • Carol Frueh

    I shred newspaper at home in my shredder then the students put some in the bottom of a paper bag like a nest and it’s protected on the way home. I teach 1st and second grade and it usually gets home pretty safely. I have 200 kids so I’m able to shred at home – 500 kids might be too much. My kids are too young to shred but older ones could help.

    • Hi Everyone! I am liking the ideas with shredded paper! What a great way to reuse something that is already sitting right at our school. Thanks!

  • I always display the art so we leave art 3 min early and pick up the art on the way back to their classroom. Then they set it in their lockers till after school. I watch the grade level leave after school and remind them (and their teachers) to get jackets and backpacks on first and then grab the clay project to take home in their hands. Lots of hand holding.

  • Right before Thanksgiving break, I send home a note asking for families to recycle their holiday tissue paper and gift bags. I get enough to last the entire year- garbage bags full! In exchange for a BAG FULL of tissue, the kids get a ticket for a freezer pop, that they redeem during lunch. Kids will do just about anything for a freezer pop (and they cost $4 for a box of 100!)

    I use the tissue to wrap everything up and then send it home in the gift bags. Also, my custodian saves all the “ends” from the paper towel rolls-the 20 feet of paper toweling that won’t go through the machine. It is wonderful for wrapping pottery.

    Our school is on a huge recycling kick, so these ideas fit right in!

    Denise Pannell

  • Tammy

    I’m about to send home our clay projects and had absolutely NO idea as to how I was going to tackle this situation. I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone for the awesome suggestions.

  • Nicolesaugstad

    I often use newspaper as well to wrap up the projects.  Although, sometimes I too send the projects home “naked.”  We just can’t do it all sometimes.  Our school had a bunch of padded envelopes donated.  This was pretty slick in protecting some small flat projects (like clay faces).  All I had to do was stick the project in the envelope, seal it up, and hand it back … Easy Peasy! 

  • Secapers

    I like the note on the sack idea. I send clay projects home in a sack, but the students wrap it in junk magazine pages & put construction paper scraps in the sack around it for a cushion. Not as fancy as bubble wrap but uses up junk we have in abundance for free.

  • Kathy

    I wrap the clay in crunched newspaper, and put it into shoe boxes for the youngest students. (shoeboxes are plentiful at the beginning of a new school year). I made labels: “Please return this empty shoe box to the Art Room. Thank you.” I trained my students to return the boxes, and they did. I also made labels: “Please return this bag to Art” and I reuse the gift bags with handles. For papier mache and stuffed animals I bought some heavy plastic bags with handles at the grocery store, enough for one class, and I reuse and reuse them all year. Works for me, and teaches recycling.

  • Toby

    I work in a fabulous school! We start clay projects early so we can have them in time for holiday gifts if they so desire, as not everyone celebrates Christmas. The staff is so wonderful!!! They take it back to their classrooms to wrap the “clay presents” helping to insure they get home safe… In tissue paper and etc. The teachers also stress the importance of the piece and the value! I hear of how the students still have their projects, not many “they broke” stories. My curriculum is taught and their gift giving is covered! Since this is the yearly thing… Parents know the clay pieces are coming home! With the high numbers of students I teach, firing for over a month gets a bit much! If we have a snow day! Yikes! The stress begins! I’ve been doing this for 30+ years and it seems to work well!
    The children’s faces says it all! They are so proud!

  • Lynn Beck

    I use paper bags to send projects home. The kids love decorating their bags the day they take home their clay projects. Towards the end of the period, I will hand out each project with a large piece of newspaper and the kids wrap it and put it in the bag. I tell them the newspaper only keeps the project from breaking thru the bag, but IF THEY DROP IT, IT WILL BREAK. There’s usually 1 in every class who drops their bag while waiting in line. If it is in less than 4 pieces, I will try to glue it, otherwise they take it home as is.

    • Alecia Eggers

      The rule of 4 pieces is genius Lynn!

  • Nancy Henry

    I have my students pack their pieces like packing dishes for moving. Stuff wads of newspaper or paper from the recycle bin inside the piece. Then they wrap wads around the outside and cover in masking tape. The wads provide cushioning. They do the work.

  • Kathy Manjeot

    At the beginning of the year I have the lunch ladies begin saving the plastic strawberry cartons. They come in 2 sizes, sometimes even larger when they buy in bulk. My size limit boxes for clay projects guarantee that most will fit into one. Students are always eager to see their glazed clay art, so after students look at them, we share and they write an artist’s statement. The pieces are left at school for me to grade. When it is time to package them up for a safe trip home I fold the artist’s statement with a scoring guide so their name will show thru the bottom of the box, wrap the piece like a burrito, snap them shut and hand them back. They have already seen them the week before so not many will reopen the cartons to look at them and hopefully they arrive safely.