We love making Shadow Boxes! They create the perfect depth and backdrop to capture any little keepsakes and lend themselves perfectly to display miniature scenes, three dimensional artwork and other found treasures! You can hang them on the wall or place them on a shelf and they’ll always look neat and finished!
Inspired by the various spring books we’ve been reading (“Turtle Spring“etc.) we created our own Spring Shadow Boxes. We asked questions like: “What happens in the spring?”, “What is the weather like?”, “What is happening to plants, animals, insects in spring?”, “What special things do you do in spring?”, “What happens to the daylight?”, “What do you wonder about the spring?” (”Why don’t the birds just stay where they fly to in winter?”) and “Why are there seasons?”.
Each of the children came up with their own spring theme variation, including rivers that swell because the snow melts, butterflies that grow out of caterpillars, birds that come back from their southern winter homes to build nests and lay eggs, sun that shines warmer, flowers that start blooming and children that get to play soccer outside!
- Shoe boxes
- Watercolor paper (precut to fit in each shoe box)
- Liquid watercolors and paint trays
- Paintbrushes or thick foam brushes
- Salt shaker
- School glue
- Collage materials (feathers, sequins, glitter, foam shapes, pompoms, tissue paper shapes, scrap construction paper, pipecleaners etc.)
- Mounting tape
- Washi tape
- Transparency Film (to close each shoe box)
- Chalk markers (optional)
Step 1: Draw something that reminds you of Spring
After observing and talking about the changes outside in nature and reading various books about spring (see above), the children had a pretty good idea of what they wanted to draw. I set out some Sharpies and a few small papers to draw on (not bigger than the shoe boxes) and let the children draw as many pictures as they wanted. Most of the children created little stories and added to them while they were drawing (e.g. “the ladybug and the flower are good friends”, there’s a mama bird in the tree, and I need to draw the eggs and there’s baby birds in the nest”, “the butterflies eat from the flowers”, “the sun is shining and me and my family play soccer but we have to watch out to not step on the flowers” etc.) Some of the children suggested we’d get the plastic flowers from the fairy house so we can draw them. If you have more time, go outside and pick some flowers or take some sketch pads outside and let the children observe and draw flowers if they show an interest in that.
Step 2: Create a background for your shadow box
Prepare the colors ahead of time. Mix some water with just a few drops of liquid watercolors and add a paintbrush or foam brush to each glass. To ensure that the children can work at their own pace, set out the watercolors on a separate table and invite the children to come over when they are done drawing. I usually tell them to use one color at a time and ask them to put the paintbrush back in it’s glass which keeps the colors clean and vibrant. When working with liquid watercolors I often offer the children to sprinkle some salt over the wet puddles of watercolor paint. We love the effect of the sparkly crystals that form when the salt absorbs the watercolors and the children love shaking the salt shaker. This is always a big hit and just so magical to watch!
Step 3: Assemble your shadow box
We let the watercolor papers dry while cutting out our spring drawings. Some of the older children did fine cutting out the bigger shapes but most children needed help during this step. I often have other activities like lego’s nearby so that the children can take a break which also gives me time to set up for the next step of any given project. Once all is ready I invite the children back to the table to finish their shadow boxes. Each child lays out how they want to display their drawings in the shadow box and attaches a square piece of mounting tape on the back of each drawing before sticking it back into the shadow box (I usually precut the tape and stick little pieces on a tray so the children can pull it off themselves easy or hand it to the children to keep it organized). This creates a wonderful raised, three-dimensional look.
Step 4: Collage your shadow box
After all the drawings are placed and secured in each child’s shadow box you can set out a variety of collage materials so they can decorate their scenes and boxes some more. Show how to squeeze a small glue dot onto the paper and how to pick/press a decoration into it – one item at a time. If you have a big group or lots of collage materials on the table that are harder to reach, consider setting up the materials on a separate table and give out little containers for the children to “go shopping”. That way they can pick their collage materials beforehand and simply carry the container back to their spot at the table where they can start glueing. Some children wanted to add more drawings to their shadow box and added some great details with these vibrant chalk markers.
Once I explained we’re going to close our boxes with transparency film like a real glass frame, we experimented further with drawing additional details on the transparency paper before attaching it to our boxes. In some cases this distracted too much from the content of the shadow box and we decided to keep the transparency paper as a separate artwork but drawing on this unusual, waxy paper was additional fun and interesting anyway!
Step 5: Close your shadow box
To close the shadow boxes, cut the transparency film the size of each box and attach it with washing tape. With an x-acto knife cut two slits in the top of each box and thread a pipe cleaner through, twirling it close at each end. Trim the excess. This is definitely teacher’s work, especially if you’re working with younger children. But worth the effort for these sweet little spring interpretations, don’t you think?