When my son was young, he always liked making paper mâché versions of the animals he was interested in or studying. We still have the models. It is a way to engage your child in their learning and making the animal models are easy to do once you understand the basics.
- picture from a book or magazine to follow as guide
- card board, boxes, empty paper towel rolls, etc.
- masking tape
- 2 plastic containers:
- one to mix the paper mâché and
- one to use to support the structure as it is drying
- paper mâché mixture, liquid starch or fabric softener
- white tissue paper
Find a Picture:
The first step is to have your child find a picture of the dinosaur that she likes. It will be their model to help build the skeleton for the paper mâché.
Make the Skeleton:
Once they have a picture, they can use newspaper, card board, boxes, empty paper towel rolls and/or etc. to build it to the size and shape they want. You might need to help them look at the basic shapes for the body, head and legs. If they need help, show them how to bunch up the newspaper to give it some shape like making a paper snowball.
Start with the body; ask them if they sees how the shape of the body is kind of an oval. Let them make the shape by crinkling paper to form a ball, then adding to it. Once they have the basic shape, and if they need help, show them how to secure it with masking tape.
Now it’s time to add the legs with feet, the arms, neck and head. The legs are usually the hardest to make if you want the model to stand. Using newspaper or empty paper towel rolls cut to size then cover them with newspaper is one way to make them. Let them determine how they want to make the legs and help attach them, if they needs it.
When she has the body assembled, they can add details like teeth, fins, forehead wrinkles or whatever they would like. For some of the details they might use toothpicks or card board cut into whatever shape they want. Be sure to let them know to make it big enough to have an area to tape down.
Once the pieces are taped together, have them check to see if the model is balanced so it is able to stand in place. Sometimes it won’t be able to stand at this point, but as they apply the paper mâché and it gets sturdier, be aware of how it stands and help them, if they need it, make adjustments to make it stand. Sometimes placing a small rock within the paper mâché gives it some weight and stability.
Paper Mâché: Have your child cover the area they’ll be working in with newspaper to make clean up easier. Have them cut some newspaper into strips. They’ll want them to be about 5″ x 2″. They don’t have to be exact, just not too big because it makes it harder for small hands to work with the strips when they are covered in the paper mâché.
To make up the paper mâché use a container that is easy to reach into. Use flour and water or liquid starch or fabric softener, all three do a great job.
If you use liquid starch or fabric softener, just pour it in a bowl and you’re ready to start.
If you use the flour and water mixture, you’ll want it to be thick like apple sauce. It will be lumpy but that’s okay. If you make it too runny, it will be harder for your child to work with and if it is really thick, it just takes longer to dry. If you mix too much, you can cover it and put it in the fridge to use another day.
They’ll use the strips of newspaper covered in the paper mâché to cover the structure. A trick to covering it is to dip the paper in the paper mâché mixture then pull the strip through two fingers to take off the excess paper mâché (video). Several layers of the paper mâché are recommended to make it strong enough to hold the shape and stand up. Allow each layer to dry before adding another layer. Let the structure rest on a plastic bowl to dry so it doesn’t stick to the newspaper. If any area gets limp while it’s wet, place a plastic container under it to help it hold the shape that your child wants.
For the last layer, apply white tissue paper with the paper mâché. It gives a great base for painting because the newspaper print doesn’t show through. If you don’t have tissue paper you can just use an extra layer of paint to cover the news print. If you wish, you can use different color tissue paper to cover the whole structure instead of painting it. The effect is great. When you are using the tissue paper, don’t dip it in the paper mâché because it is too thin and falls apart. Just place it where you want it and dab the paper mâché on it with your fingers so it adheres to the structure.
Paint and/or Decorate: When it dries, have your child paint the structure any way they would like it. Since scientists don’t know really what color the dinosaurs were, your child can paint them with whatever color they would like. The best time to add details like other colors, spots or lines, is after the paint dries. Otherwise the paint will smear and it’s harder to get the effect that they want. Some small details, like eyes, are easier to do with a permanent marker.
Alternative Idea for model building: Another fun way to build a model is using Model Magic. It takes whatever form you want and it is squishy. It is soft and pliable and is easy for children to use. Model Magic comes in colors or you can use white and paint it any color.
Think About It!
This would be a great time for a discussion of what color does your daughter think dinosaurs were?