How to teach sculpture in Key Stage 2

So you’re teaching sculpture in Key Stage 2 – what next?

The National Curriculum guidelines are minimal and use the word ‘sculpture’ with an example of ‘clay’. But working in three dimensions has many opportunities for creative work within the art curriculum. You can create 3D art from so many different materials, and there are some great examples of this in the Key Stage 2 Kapow Primary lessons, using recycled materials (bottle tops) when celebrating sculptural creations inspired by El Anatsui, or creating messages with card and paper as the artist Sokari Douglas Camp does.

home made sculpture KS2

There are many low cost materials that can be used for sculpture, including;

  • paper
  • card
  • balsa wood
  • card board boxes
  • and art straws

All you need are;

  • good scissors
  • adhesives
  • tapes to join and shape.
  • Plastic bottles are a great resource too as they can be safely used to make all sorts of interesting shapes and designs in 3D form.

Storage can be an issue with 3D work so make sure that you photograph work and process so that children can have a record in their sketchbooks to put next to their sketches and designs for their sculptures. They will willingly take their final creations home to share in the home gallery space!

Clay is a lovely ‘hands on’ experience for young people, just think of those wonderful moments growing up when you created with plasticine, play dough, and mud. Clay work can be low relief sculpture, such as tiles, or modelling and building shape and form with clay, such as a container or pot or piggy bank.

Air drying clay is useful in the primary classroom, although some people find it fibrous and more difficult to work with. But it means you don’t need a kiln to fire the clay, as it can be modelled, dried and then painted. However, if you link with your local secondary school you might be able to use their kiln, which means you could then work with stoneware (grey) or earthenware (red) clay, which is also cheaper to buy.

Paper mache (from the French words papiere mache) is a cheap and effective material too. Here wallpaper paste and shredded newspaper can be used to create shapes moulded around objects such as balloons (face/mask/bowl) or a bottle (cup/vase/pencil pot). Children work with a wet but malleable material in layers and enjoy the haptic senses of such a ‘hands on’ activity. When the layers are dried, paint can be applied, or coloured tissue paper, and if you make the last layer from white paper (cheap printing paper or newsprint) it is easier to paint on top of.

In KS2 children should be more aware of the purpose of Art craft and design, so creating sculpture and 3D work which has purpose shows an awareness of the creative and cultural industries. The Kapow Primary lesson  where children develop their Käthe Kollwitz inspired drawings into sculptures for the Fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square is a great example of this. They will ‘see’ their design and sculpture in context. Also, studying the history of the art that has been used for the Fourth plinth is a great way to develop their understanding and appreciation of the art form.

Sometimes, teachers steer away from 3D work because of time and space restrictions, but it is an essential part of the art curriculum and there are always ways to introduce it, and you can work very small scale if need be. But, if you do want to think big….explore the outdoor spaces, make sculptures in the style of Andy Goldsworthy with autumn leaves, twigs that have fallen from trees, stones and pebbles etc. Why not do some yarn bombing around the school fence (with permission of course) and shadow sculptures on a sunny day (create a sculpture from anything and then photograph its shadow or draw around the shadow)? Make plastic shapes from bottles (jellyfish for example) and hang from a tree branch or a lamp post within the school grounds. Ask the children to become human sculptures and then photograph the result. Art can be great fun as well as great learning.

Go for it!

home made sculpture KS2
Susan Coles selfie
Written by:
Susan Coles

Susan is an educator, artist and an active advocate and well-known champion of art craft and design education. Her roles include: Secretary to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Art, Craft, Design Education, Past President, and now Honorary Fellow of the National Society for Education in Art & Design (NSEAD), World Councillor (representing Europe) for the International Society of Education through Art (InSEA), and an Associate of the Big Draw. When Susan isn’t sharing her passion for the arts, she loves photography, making her own art, absorbing culture and travel.

Susan designed our free lesson on Clacton Pigeon Mural by Banksy as well as many others in our Art & Design subject.