Running a cob oven workshop for adults can be a challenge with all the logistics and many demonstrations that are required. So running a cob oven workshop for children presents even more challenges, but more challenges also mean more potential benefits. Don’t let the challenge deter you, it is well worth it! I suggest running a few oven workshops with adults before you take on one for children, though it isn’t necessary. In this post, I am assuming you have built an oven and know the stages and processes involved. The photos are from a workshop that was for the 5th and 6th-grade classes at Ripton Elementary School in Vermont.
Age and Ability
Depending on the desired outcome of the oven and the age of the children, you will need to assess what the children are able to do to meet your goal. This oven workshop for children was aimed at building an oven that the school would use to bake pizzas for fundraisers, so we wanted the oven to be as solid and functional as possible. Having enough adults so each group of kids had someone to help and oversee their progress was essential for meeting our goals.
Attention span is also a limiting factor with children, this means keeping explanations and demonstrations to a minimum and making them as engaging as possible. Good preparation of the site and materials is key in keeping the time frame of the workshop manageable. It can also help if you can meet with the adults before the children get involved to plan out the various steps, and to discuss how they can best help you in each stage of the process.
Keep it Fun and Playful
Running a cob oven workshop for children is all about playing and creating curiosity. The more you can make the work seem like play the more you will be able to get the children to participate. Asking them questions about the materials and what makes them special and having them explore it with their hands is a great way to teach them about clay, getting them interested in the process. Bring some speakers and some good dancing music and get them stomping that clay! This is a highlight for many of them. Being able to stomp barefoot in mud for a project is unheard of!
You will need to consider the children’s size and strength for everything you do; from making the batches of cob to be mixed, to the height and accessibility of the oven itself. Be sure to make the batches of cob considerably smaller than you would for adults so they can also use the tarp to flip the mixture. This means more time for mixing the cob needed. If this is an issue on your time constraint, consider premixing some batches and leave just enough for them to do so they can see the process and be involved in this step.
Swing your Partner Dosey Doe!
Sparkly vermiculite slip insulation mix
Encouragement and Perspective
Remember this is a big experience for children they will likely remember this for a very long time! Your priority should be in making this the most positive experience possible so that they will want to do this in the future. This means be kind, laugh a lot, and shower them with praise at every opportunity you get.
Give them perspective on the work they are engaged in by telling them how it will help the end result of baking many delicious pizzas to be enjoyed in the future. You can also tell them how the skills they are gaining are very valuable skills and can be used for many other things; from building their own home, to making art and sculptures. Keep their mind engaged in the process using stories as much as possible.
This is a very fulfilling project for both the organizers and the students. It takes a lot of planning and coordination to make such a finished oven. It isn’t necessary that your workshop builds such a finished oven, even building a small oven on the ground can be a great workshop. The important thing is children learn to work together, to use their hands, and that they learn something about natural materials and the amazing things you can do with them. Lets engage the young generation in this amazing cultural heritage of ours so they will take an interest and pass it on to future generations!
If you have experience running workshops for children please feel free to share your tips and experiences here in the comments or on our Community Forum. Substantial forum posts will be featured in our blog!