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Make a scene

When books begin to seem like hard work, dioramas help bring their magic to life.

By Valle Dwight

Reading should be a visceral, emotional experience — because it engages our imaginations. But during first and second grade — when many public school curriculums tend to favor rote readin’, writin’, and ’rithmetic methods — it's easy for kids to lose touch with the sheer magic of books. As kids are drawn to more complex movies and TV, books also can lose their standing as the most entertaining medium.

One of the best ways to inject some excitement into reading is to create a project that gives your child a dramatic way to express how her imagination interacts with the page. A three-dimensional diorama will not only engage the book lovers in your family but also the kids who may be wondering if reading is hard work. For science-minded kids, you can give the project a “high-tech” spin with Christmas lights or music to complete the scene.

The project: A diorama that recreates a favorite scene from a book

Get ready: Fill in the details

  • Talk to your child about a favorite book, preferably one she’s read recently. Ask her to describe a favorite scene from that story. Push her for lots of details, so you’ll be able to give her ideas when creating the diorama.
  • Next, have her sketch out what she’d like the diorama to look like — go online to check out examples for inspiration.
  • Gather up the basic materials you’ll need, including a shoebox and paints, as well as any special ones you know you’ll need (cotton balls for clouds, if the scene is outside, for instance). Pipe cleaners come in very handy with a diorama — they can be trees, a fence, or the structure for a house.

Make it happen: It’s a small world

Using the sketch as reference, have your child paint the back, sides and floor of the shoebox. Now it’s time to create your world.

If the scene includes people or animals, have your child make them from clay. Use small dabs of glue to keep everything in place. If the scene is outdoors, have her use twigs for trees or to build fences. The sky is the limit!

Speaking of the sky, a nice way to give the diorama an even more 3-D look is to hang things from the top of the box with fishing line (cotton ball clouds or miniature birds, for example).

Valle Dwight is a reporter, writer, and mother of two school-aged boys. She has written for many magazines, including FamilyFun, Wondertime, and Working Mother.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

10/20/2009:
"wonderful idea for those moms that like a little one on one time with their child. Its up to the parent to make it a fun, imaginative, bonding activity not just 'a project'. The scene doesnt have to look exactly as your mind imagines it, it doesnt have to be a permanant 'picture' in your mind. Just start it out as a picture and add to it letting your mind wonder so he wont get frustrated."
10/15/2009:
"sounds like a lot of work...and too advanced for my first grader. He would just be frustrated that the scene doesn't look like what his mind's eye imagined. i think just having them describe and retell the scene with encouragement from you is likely good enough"
10/13/2009:
"Ye, ye. my kids hate those projects more than books"
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