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Creating with clay continues to be a crowd favorite among students. One of the even more intriguing things about ceramics is its functionality. Upon showing your students a new technique or process, you probably start hearing them discuss how they will use their creations. Comments like, “I can’t wait to eat cereal out of this!” are not uncommon. Generation Z students seek a rationale and purpose when doing anything, so functional pottery fits right in with their mindset.
From mugs to bowls, there are many functional pottery avenues to explore with students. Creating candles is one more process you can add to your repertoire. Here is a step-by-step guide to try it out in your classroom.
To begin the process, you will need a few materials.
When creating a container for your ceramic candle, almost any technique will work! The important things to keep in mind are the vessel’s width and height, as this will determine how much wax you need and the length of the wick. Before your students get started, you might consider giving them a set amount of clay or dimensions to guide their piece’s size.
If you’re looking to expose your students to new ceramic techniques, you could treat this activity as a skill-building exercise. Often, these are mini-projects where students are working at a smaller scale. For instance, if you introduce students to hand-building, you could review how to create a pinch pot form. To take it further, challenge your students with a new surface treatment technique. Techniques like sgraffito or Mishima are great processes to explore.
When considering how to finish the ceramic pieces, just about anything will work! Unglazed pieces or those with an underglaze will allow for a candle to be poured inside. Glazed pieces inside and out will also work. A gloss glaze on the inside will make it easier to repurpose the container or create a new candle later.
As students wait for their pieces during the final firing process, have them plan for the candle pouring. They will want to consider the scent and the color of the wax. You will need to provide wax dyes if students want their candle to be a color beyond white.
Smelling the scents for their candle is the best part! You can find a plethora of oils for scenting online or at a local craft store. Just make sure the scented oil is appropriate for candlemaking. The label will provide this information. Sometimes, you will find candle making supplies near soap making supplies. Not all soap making oils are compatible with candles, so make sure to double-check! Each student will have their own personal preference when it comes to picking out scents. However, you’ll find those that mimic foods, fruits, baking, or holiday scents typically are more popular as opposed to exotic scents.
Wax melting and candle pouring will take several days per class if you only have one burner. Each pour will take five to seven minutes as well, so make sure your students are working on something else. Here are the steps to follow when pouring the candles:
After twenty-four hours, your candles will be ready to burn! This is the part your students anticipate. They will really want to test them at school; unless you have a controlled area where you can take them outside, testing at school is not a great choice. Once students take them home, they can test them out and light them. Because students might live in homes where candle burning is not allowed, it’s important to note they can be used with candle warmers or as a scented decorative piece.
Candle making takes some planning and time, but it is an exciting and engaging process your students will look forward to! They’ll be proud of their success and the functional ceramic piece they’ve created.
Have you ever made candles with students? What tips would you add?
What’s your favorite functional ceramic lesson to teach?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.