Clay boggart sticks are a fun twist on the perennial Forest School favourite activity that turns the old ‘face on a tree’ task into a take-homeable craft.
This is such a simple activity that it doesn’t really need a tutorial. But here are a few tips and inspiration to get you started.
Not got much time or just want the bullet points on how to make these? Click here for the Quick Read Instructions.
What is a boggart?
A boggart is a mischievous creature from British folklore that people blamed for all sorts of naughtiness. While not traditionally associated with tree spirits, the name has come to be used for the quintessential forest school activity of decorating trees with clay faces.
As long as you don’t use air-dry clay (which contains non-biodegradable nylon strands to help strengthen it as it dries) or add any non-natural decorations, you can often leave your boggart in place, to eventually crumble harmlessly away.
But sometimes you can’t leave your boggarts behind. Maybe the landowner doesn’t permit it, or the woodland is a particularly sensitive place such as a Site of Specific Scientific Interest. Or perhaps it’s just that the children want to keep them. So don’t mould your clay face onto the bark of a tree; if you make your boggart on a stick, you’ve got a jester’s marotte that can go home with you instead.
How to make clay boggart sticks
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You don’t need very much at all to make these boggarts, and ideally most if not everything will be found in the area that you are carrying out the activity.
If you are leaving your boggarts in place in a natural environment, you should use clay that requires kiln-firing. You might see this type of clay under different names, such as school or potter’s clay, for instance. But the important detail to look for that it is 100% natural clay (or mud) and is not self-hardening.
If you are making your boggart on sticks and will be taking them away with you, then you can use air dry clay.
The reason for this is that air dry/self-hardening clay contains fine strands of nylon. The nylon helps give the clay strength as it hardens, to compensate for not going through the firing process. Nylon is a type of plastic, and therefore is not only non-biodegradable but can also be dangerous to flora and fauna.
Potter’s clay, on the other hand, is pure mud. Nothing added, and without firing at high heat in a kiln (a domestic oven isn’t hot enough), it will stay soft and eventually wash back into the soil around it. You can get potter’s clay in a range of colours (mud from different places!). So be aware that red and darker colours can stain clothes and skin.
Of course, the best clay of all to use, is clay that the children dig up in the local area. Whether you can do this depends on where you live – clay soil isn’t found everywhere. But all your mud needs to be is thick and sticky, so if you’ve got that, you are golden!
To make a clay head on a stick, you need sticks! Get the children looking for ones that are big and strong enough to support a ball of clay at one end, and nicely shaped for holding in your hand.
Once they’ve found their main stick, they will need to roll a ball of clay and pop it on the top. Then they can gather up any bits they might want to use for decorations or embellishments.
You can just shape your clay to make a boggart head, of course, but it’s great fun to go foraging for natural bits that can be used to enhance it. Leaves, twigs, and grasses for hair and arms, and really long nose hair; or berries, nuts, and seeds for eyes, ornaments, and freckles. Children come up with the most amazing ideas for their boggarts, so let them go nuts!
Even if we are taking our boggart marottes home with us, I avoid using artificial embellishments such as plastic googly-eyes, wool, or anything non-natural that’s not found in the area around us. I also avoid using natural but non-native things that could disrupt the local ecology, most notably seeds or things that local creatures might try to eat. Making these clay boggart sticks is a chance to connect with nature, so we want to avoid anything that might harm it!
Once you’ve made your boggart, what you do with it is up to you! They make great puppets, and a lovely follow-up activity is to make a woodland puppet theatre and put on a performance.
- Find a stick
- Make a ball of clay and stick it onto one end of your stick
- Shape it into a face
- Find leaves, nuts, seeds, flowers, bits of bark or any other natural items found around you to decorate your boggart head.
- Give it a name and take it home!
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