Monday, June 17, 2013

The Evolution of a Mountain: Phase 1

The other day my boy said he wanted to make "diorama" of the Lego Chima world.

With the help of a Lego sticker book we made a list of all the different landscapes in that world. This list went into the project book we keep with ideas he wants to explore. 

The landscape he wanted to start with was the mountainous region. 

He wanted the mountain to tower over the Lego mini-figures, which he calls "Lego Dudes" and wanted it to be big enough to be able to play with the actual Dudes on the mountain. We measured the Lego mini-figures to get an average height, then he made an estimate of how tall he wanted the mountain. 

We then made a list of all of the different mediums that could be used: clay, cardboard, fabric, paper mache, etc.

We had not done paper mache in the past but we had talked about it many times. After discussing the pros and cons of each medium (clay would be heavy but you could add lots of detail, cardboard would be hard to shape into a mountain but would be lighter, etc...) he decided to research paper mache because it seemed to have the qualities he wanted: light with the ability to go big with detail. He finally decided to go with paper mache.

One of the first decisions he had to make was that of a base material. What would give the mountain structure while he was building? Wire was proposed, as was an upside-down tomato cage and a box. After getting some ideas of what is possible from this video he finally settled on using a base of an overturned vase, with newspaper added to make his desired shape, then covered with aluminum foil. 

He used a very basic flour and water mix for the paste.

And started applying torn strips of newspaper.

After another layer of paper and overnight dry time he felt it was strong enough to remove it from the base. I helped him cut a slit in the mountain to remove the base. He was extremely nervous about this part.

Here is the unwrapped over-turned vase next to the mountain.

At this point he wanted the mountain have more of a slope and he wanted to add trails for the Dudes to climb up the mountain. I helped him add more paper around the base until we achieved the basic shape he wanted.

 Then another layer of aluminum foil was added.

We talked about the many ways that trails could be made. With the actual paper mache built up for a trail, with extra foil taped on, or with pinching the existing foil into trails. He started pinching.

And then gave his trails a test run...

When he was satisfied with all of the trails another layer of paper mache went on. He started with defining and strengthening the trails and then filled in the areas between.

He is excited to move on to the painting and landscaping phases but he knows if he puts the extra work into the paper mache now he will have a strong mountain that will last. After one more good layer it should be ready for phase two.

This project really shows the magic of Project Based Homeschooling. An idea sparked from a commercial plaything has morphed into something that has taken imagination, planning, research, learning new skills, flexibility, long-term commitment to seeing an idea through, and patience. 

And this is just the beginning.


  1. This is awesome! I have read Project Based Homeschooling too, and am excited to incorporate these ideas into my homeschooling. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Lisa! I will tell him you liked it.
      We love PBHing. We have been using the ideas/concepts for five years now! Lori is such a great mentor!

  2. fantastic! :D this is a beautiful example of layered learning!

    1. Thanks Lori! And once again... Many thanks for all of your guidance and inspiration!

  3. This is fantastic! I can't wait to show my boys - they're both heavy into Legos and I know they'll really admire his work :)

    1. Thanks!
      Lego has inspired so much creativity around here.
      Now that we have done this in paper mache I can't even imagine the models that could be built. I can totally see tanks, air planes, etc... in our future. I think he is hooked on the medium.

  4. Are you not the coolest mom EVER! The mess, the creating, the learning-that is what it is all about :)

    1. Awww. You are too sweet. What a nice thing to say.
      That is what it is all about.
      He is also an amazingly tidy seven year-old boy. The mess has not been as bad as I had anticipated. Yay!

  5. What a great project! I wish my son were still in the Lego Dudes stage. There is nothing more awesome than a 7 year old boy with a big imagination. (Except maybe a mom who nurtures it.)

    1. Thanks Rita!
      This is a super fun stage. I love how he is extending it beyond Lego... In a big way. I am thinking all of this cleaning out might just result in a huge space in the garage for his "diorama" :-)

  6. Fantastic! I really like that he's going to go the full nine yards with the paper mache. I remember in high school we built floats for the home coming parade. We made a pirate ship out cardboard, with a mast and everything. Then the next year we made a tropical island complete with paper mache volcano, tikki hut and palm trees. I should find a picture of that. it was too cool! All from found materials, paper cardboard, packing tape...