Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Culminating Project: Dioramas

As the culminating project of our emergent curriculum study of the animals that live around our school in the winter, my class has been involved in making dioramas.  I am quite impressed with the attention to detail the children have displayed in each step of the process. 

Before we started we talked about the difference between art for displaying scientific information and art that is more imaginative. We discussed how the dioramas would be used to help them teach their families what they have learned as they have become the experts during our project.

We spent several days experimenting with the clay and learning its properties; how to warm it, shape it, blend it and more.  It is important to let children play with a material before being expected to use that medium to create something. 

Each child chose an animal that he was interested in representing.  Although there were several duplicates, the range of animals was actually quite large from bears to snakes to an ermine.  Next, the child found the animal in one of the non-fiction books that we have been using for our research.  We then talked through the animal’s characteristics; how many legs it had and other distinguishing features such as tail size and shape.  We didn’t have access to a kiln, so we let our clay air dry.

she is trying to make the bottom of the racoon foot match the footprint

(These can be quite delicate, so I have learned that a mixture of tacky glue and super glue works very well for reattachment-just wear gloves and don’t take your gloves off using your teeth when your phone rings J)

When the animals were dry we used acrylic paint to bring their features to life.  I loved listening to the children describe the colors they needed for their artists’ palette; “a goldenish, brownish, yellowy color”
“a tanish black”.

For the habitat, each child brought in a shoe box from home. 

We put out various colors of construction paper and demonstrated ripping the paper and layering it. 
We focused the children on thinking about where this particular animal would be living in the winter; in a cave, a burrow, hunting in the snow.

The children covered the inside of the box with ripped paper and then we mixed our own foam paint to give it texture.  We combined white glue with shaving cream and tempera paint.  We mixed it lightly to a meringue consistency and the children scooped it on to their scenes. 

Since this is a glue mixture, they were able to also use it to attach their animal to the box and add other natural items to embellish the background. 

I am a huge advocate of process over product-and this WAS an incredible, multi-step process that required higher level thinking skills, but I have to admit the product is pretty impressive.

a bear in a cave

an ermine-white in winter-hunting

a coyote hunting

a bear in his cave

a hibernating racoon in his hollowed out tree

                                                                     a fox hunting at night

Each child is also writing a “report” to accompany her scene.  This will be used to educate the visitors to our museum next week and is a natural way to assess their learning.

I am quite proud of my naturalists-they are teaching me so much about these animals. 


  1. I especially love the photos that show the children painting from beautifully illustrated nature books. They are really making great use of their resource material!

  2. This is incredible work... Thank you for the wonderful inspiration and tips will add it to my to do list