Dioramas are 3-D models. They are fun hands-on projects for parents and kids to work on together to learn about habitats. Here are the steps, with lots of ideas for variations. If you’re doing this in a class setting, you can choose your materials in advance and have them all set out for the kids. But if you’re doing it at home, it’s fine to just start building, and then go gather more materials as inspiration strikes.
Whose Home Will You Build?
Choose a small plastic animal or stuffed animal. Or make some out of paper, playdough, clothespins, or whatever you have handy. You can also find many designs you can print and cut out. Try searching for “habitat diorama coloring pages” or “habitat diorama printable.” Ask your child what would be surrounding this animal – are they living in the ocean, in a forest, in a desert? What do they eat? What else is in their environment?
Note: If you’re building with a child older than 5, you can ask your child a lot of questions like “where does a lion live? what does it look like there? what does a lion eat?” They will be able to answer those question from various information they’ve absorbed in life, and can visualize the answers well enough to re-create them. Younger children may not have as much background knowledge, and have a hard time thinking abstractly. They will be more successful if you have some pictures showing that animal in its habitat and they attempt to re-create aspects of the pictures.
Finding Your Container
The easiest thing is to use a shoe box. It’s already set up as a box with one open side. You can take any other cardboard box – like a cereal box – and cut off one panel to create your box. Or, you can take a piece of flat cardboard and fold it in half to be the bottom and back of the diorama.
You can also make a “triorama”. You cut and fold a large piece of paper, to create a 3-sided shape that stands on its own – two walls form the background, and one the floor.
You can stick four trioramas back to back, and you’ve got four different spaces to build habitats into – could make one a grassland, one a jungle, and so on. Here are just a few sample trioramas from a Bing image search.
The back of the diorama is “the view” of the habitat – what does the sky look like? what plants, mountains, and other features do you see in the distance?
First, cut a piece of paper to fit on the background of the box. Use crayons or markers to draw the background, or gather leaves and small branches to create a collage for the background. For the ocean, it’s fun to do a watercolor resist – use crayon or pastel to draw sea plants, coral, and so on, then paint over it with blue and green watercolors.
Then think about the floor of the diorama – what would be on the ground where the animal lives? You could draw grass or flowers, color in dirt and glue on some rocks, or color it white for snow, color it blue for water, or glue on sand for desert. You can make a river using foil.
What Else Does it Need?
Assemble your diorama. Then check to be sure you’ve included all the things an animal needs in its habitat: food, water, protection from the weather, protection from other animals that might harm it. Add other items to increase the three dimensional aspect of the diorama. One fun idea (seen in this aquarium picture and in the Sonic the Hedgehog diorama at the top of the post) is that you can hang items on strings, punch a hole in the top of the box, and then tie the string to a bead, button or paper clip. You can then pull the string up and down to move the fish.
Need more ideas for dioramas? This is one of the most commonly done kids’ science projects, so just do an image search for “habitat diorama” and you’ll see countless examples… here’s just the first few Bing results.
You could also try using these habitat pictures to build simple dioramas you can just print and cut out – use the scene as your backdrop, add some people, a home, and some animals… you can cut them out and glue them to the background for a 2-d collage, or put paper tabs on the backs of the pictures and place them around a box for a 3-d version.