When I first started planning our Arctic Diorama, I had planned for us to make it at the end of our Polar Unit Study (for Preschoolers). I thought it would be a fun way to finish off our unit. But once the kids saw the little toy Arctic animals and found out what we were going to do with them, they were too excited to wait.
We ended up making the diorama shortly after beginning our unit. In retrospect, I’m really glad we did it sooner rather than waiting until the end of the unit. It provided a great visual and tactile experience for them to learn hands-on what we were reading and talking about.
Making the diorama:
Although we were studying both polar regions (the Arctic and Antarctica), we chose to make our diorama of just the Arctic region. Since the kids had already learned the difference between Arctic animals and Antarctic animals, and that some of them don’t live in the same region, I didn’t want to confuse them with a diorama that included both polar bears and penguins, for example.
The first thing we did was gather the materials we needed.
- a shoebox- We didn’t have any shoeboxes around the house so we stopped in to a shoe store and asked if they had any empty boxes. We collected 5 or 6 in various sizes and chose one to use for the Arctic diorama. The others we put away to use for other projects.
- Foamies glitter foam sheets (blue and silver/white)- Most craft stores carry these but we had them in our craft cupboard at home already in blue and silver.
- cotton balls
- white paint
- a paint brush (for each kid)
- rocks- the kids found a few outside that worked well for what we needed
- construction paper- light blue/sky colored
- a glue gun- use this with caution around kids- they get very hot! I did all of the gluing with the hot glue gun by myself while the kids were busy doing other things.
- regular/Elmer’s school glue
- scissors- also use carefully around little kids
Step 1: Shape the box into the size and shape of diorama that you want
We cut and pulled some of the edges of our shoebox open until we had the size and shape we wanted. I was able to get more room out of the bottom of our diorama (the lid) by pulling open one lip on the side of the lid.
Once our shoe box was arranged to our liking, I used hot glue to glue it together. Be sure to supervise kids around the hot glue gun… My glue gun gets very hot and I’ve burned myself on it before! The cardboard on my shoe box was thick enough to use hot glue on a low setting without burning the cardboard. Elmer’s school glue would work for thinner boxes.
Step 2: Landscaping
Foamies glitter foam sheets were perfect for our Arctic landscape, since the glitter sparkles like snow and water!
We knew we wanted two different landscape types for our diorama: ocean and snow. We used one blue glitter foam sheet for the ocean. We decided to make a shelf so that our diorama would be two different levels with the snow above the level of the ocean.
I glued down two small cardboard pieces to prop up a “snow” shelf and also glued down the blue glitter foam sheet for the ocean on the floor of the diorama.
For the snow shelf, I cut a piece of cardboard to a size that would slide into the diorama and rest on the cardboard props I had glued down. Before sliding it in, I wrapped a sheet of silver glitter foam around it and glued the edges underneath to hold it on.
I lined the shelf with hot glue around the edges before sliding it in to hold it in place inside the diorama. I left a sliver of space between the shelf and the back of the box so that I would have room for the diorama backdrop. The hot glue was a bit messy in some places but we eventually used cotton balls to cover glue spots or just picked off the dried glue.
Step 3: Paint
After the landscape was in place, the kids painted rocks that they had collected from our yard. They used white paint to make the rocks look like icebergs.
While they were painting their rocks, I brushed some white paint across the shelf to make it look more snowy. I also painted another sheet of silver glitter foam paper off to the side to use later for the backdrop.
Step 4: Backdrop
After the paint was dry, we started working on the backdrop. We used a light sky-blue colored paper. I put Elmer’s glue on the back and slid the paper behind the snow shelf and then pressed and smoothed it down. We used the same paper for the sides.
Using the sheet of silver glitter foam paper I had painted and set aside earlier, we cut two layers of mountain shapes out for the backdrop and glued them on.
Step 5: Add some details
At this point we placed our animals and props into the diorama to see what we wanted the finished result to look like. On the right, we added a smaller cardboard shelf (covered with glitter foam painted to match the snow shelf) for extra interest. On the left, we added an igloo that we made using a red plastic cup cut in half and turned upside-down (but we didn’t glue this down yet). We placed the rocks and animals in various places to see what they would look like in different places.
The kids glued cotton balls on to the igloo using Elmer’s school glue to complete the snowy igloo look. We then glued it down in the diorama in the spot we had chosen for it.
The last thing we did was add some cotton balls around the diorama to soften and finish the snowy Arctic look and to cover some rough edges.
I also decided at the last minute to glue a strip of silver glitter foam (painted white to match) in front of the snow shelf to close off the space underneath it. I didn’t want the kids losing their toy animals under the shelf at the back of the diorama. Cotton balls helped cover the edge where the snow shelf and the strip meet.
Then we added the animals back and we were finished! We didn’t glue the toys down because the kids wanted to move them around and play with them in their diorama. We also chose not to decorate the outside of the box as it was already blue and the kids didn’t seem to mind that it wasn’t decorated. They enjoyed playing with it and learned so much while making it!
It’s been about a month since we made our diorama. It has held up wonderfully (despite losing a few cotton balls when 10-month old Little B got hold of it) and the kids still play with it several times a week!
If you have any questions, leave a comment below. If you like our diorama, share and pin!
To read more about our Polar unit study for preschoolers, click here.