Molding minds through clay

Berthoud Library hosts hands-on Anatomy in Clay classes

By Jan Dowker
The Surveyor

Val Zahourek examines the hand with daughter Petra during the Anatomy in Clay class at the Berthoud Public Library on Oct. 6.  Jan Dowker / The Surveyor

Val Zahourek examines a model of the human hand with daughter Petra during the Anatomy in Clay class at the Berthoud Public Library on Oct. 6.
Jan Dowker / The Surveyor

Known as the Library Project, the Berthoud Community Library District is one of six libraries along the Front Range participating in an innovative pilot program by Anatomy in Clay Centers, a nonprofit in Denver whose program offers a free hands-on interactive class working with clay to teach participants about the human anatomy.

Val Zahourek, a Berthoud library supporter and niece of Jon Zahourek, creator of the Anatomy in Clay Learning System, suggested to Christy Headrick, the library’s youth services librarian, that they participate in the pilot program. Headrick received approval from Sara Wright, the library director, to schedule the program, with the first class being held on Oct. 6.

“Libraries are increasingly emphasizing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and the hands-on approach of working with clay gives kids the ability to learn and remember because they’re actually doing it,” said Val Zahourek, director of development for the centers.

Model clay and skeletal hand models await students arrival for the Anatomy in Clay class to begin. Jan Dowker / The Surveyor

Model clay and skeletal hand models await students arrival for the Anatomy in Clay class to begin.
Jan Dowker / The Surveyor

Unlike rote learning, the program emphasizes using clay to help understand the different uses of the muscles and how they work within our human anatomy.

In the first class on Monday, participants used clay to form muscles and tendons of varying shapes and sizes that were then carefully placed on a scale model of a realistic skeletal human hand. The range of shapes included triangular shapes for the thumb and almost tubular shapes along the fingers.

“Libraries want to have a hands-on approach because there’s a trend toward ‘doing it yourself’ and getting younger people involved,” said Laurie Brock, a consultant with the Anatomy in Clay Learning System.

The nonprofit received funding from the Morgridge Family Foundation to bring the pilot program to the libraries, shared Val Zahourek. The workshop is part of a growing relationship between the Denver-based nonprofit Anatomy in Clay Centers and public libraries. Funding includes providing equipment and clay for the classes, as well as team support from the centers.

Six libraries are part of the pilot program funded by the Anatomy in Clay Centers – Denver, which began in May and ends in December.

“The pilot is a small area in the Front Range so the team could be responsive to the libraries’ needs,” said Brock.

“We started with six because it’s labor intensive; because it is a hands-on program,” Val Zahourek agreed.

The Anatomy in Clay program is currently used in more than 10,000 classrooms across the country, including high school and higher education. From anatomy and physiology to STEM programs; from physical therapy to veterinary courses, the diversity of the program has a broad-ranging impact in effectively teaching anatomy in a hands-on approach unlike any other.

“Trying the library market allows the lay audience to get their hands on clay and see the body being built through clay,” said Brock.

Deb Hatch, a practicing massage therapist, attended the class on Monday after reading about it in the paper.

“I knew others that had taken the class, so I wanted to see what it was all about,” she said. Other attendees included volunteers from the library and a Berthoud High School freshman.

“There’s a self-discovery and self-teaching component about the program that you can’t get in a two-dimensional book or computer program,” said Val Zahourek. “The class is fun and accessible and it’s a better way to learn anatomy. It allows students to get used to their tactile learning by putting a hand together from the inside out.”

Included in the class is discussion of how the various muscles work and the different functions they have on a skeletal frame.

According to Val Zahourek, the research conducted by double blind tests and other methods has found that their system is more effective at learning anatomy than other forms, including dissection, because it’s putting the body together from the inside out.

“Our goal is to teach anatomy to kids, many of whom may not get the chance to go to college,” said Val Zahourek. “Some of the schools we work with have kids who would never have thought they could be nurses or doctors, but once they see that they can learn anatomy through our hands-on approach, it changes how they think of themselves and what they can do. It changes lives.”

Zahourek Systems is the parent company of Anatomy in Clay® Learning System, headquartered in Loveland. The company participates in conferences throughout the year to bring its multifaceted program to communities across the country and is used in all 50 states.

The nonprofit Anatomy in Clay Centers in Denver has a studio for classes and is working to get more involved in collaborating with foundations to get the program out to more kids.

As noted on the company’s website, the Anatomy in Clay Centers exists to expand upon centuries of exploration into human and animal bodies. The system was founded by Jon Zahourek, who pioneered a new way of teaching anatomy more than 30 years ago with a hands-on approach to learning anatomy. In its lengthy history, anatomy has been closely linked with the medical sciences but is also an essential element in the understanding of who we are and how we function in the world, a subject with broad implications.

“The class connects the high level of thinking with someone in reality,” said Headrick. “I went with another librarian and took a short class at the studio in Denver. Jon is so excited about it and he’s so infectious about doing the class. He doesn’t tone it down. Everyone can understand the Ph.D. level of anatomy because of his approach to learning.”

To learn more about the Anatomy in Clay program, visit the Berthoud Community Library District at 236 Welch Ave. The class is offered on Monday’s from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. through Nov. 10.