Tips for Paper-Mâché School Projects

Three times this year my laid-back 3rd grader came home from school with a list of projects she could choose from: make a model/diorama, dress up as a historical character and reenact a key event, do a powerpoint presentation, etc.

Me: Powerpoint presentations are fun! How about a Powerpoint?

Daughter: I think I’d like to make a paper-mâché model of (insert whatever topic it was).

Me: Great! Super great! That’s cool too, I guess. You’re really missing out on this PowerPoint thing though.

Daughter: I don’t think so.

Me: (thinking to myself) The ONE time I don’t want her to be an over-achiever and she picks that moment to be one. Well, that backfired. *Googles how to make paper-mâché glue mixture.*

Three times we had this conversation. Three times we made a paper-mâché model. One of a gold mine, one of a Georgia habitat and one of a monument to Eleanor Roosevelt. I really learned a lot this year.

Here are my tips for making paper-mâché projects with your child:

1. Don’t do it. Just kidding. You’ll really, really love it.

Just look at this proud, do-you-really-have-to-take-my-picture face!

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2. Allow plenty of time. For real. Procrastination is not your friend. You can’t do this project the night before it is due. You’re going to need at least a weekend to work on any paper-mâché project. Between drying time and “can’t I go play now” time – it’s going to take awhile.

Details like this don’t come quickly.

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3. Protect your work surface. If you listen to nothing else, listen to this. Do yourself a huge favor and put a cheap, plastic tablecloth under your work area. When the project is done, you can just wrap up all of the newspaper scraps, etc. in one fell swoop.

I also used an old cookie sheet under two of the projects. A cutting board would work too. This was so that we could paint and/or glue all the way to the bottom of the project without fear of actually glueing the project to the table.

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4. Wear gloves. I’d recommend wearing gloves while handling the strips of newspaper. Unless you like glue all over your hands like my kids do. Then, by all means, knock yourself out.

I use ones like these that you can find on Amazon.

You can also get them at your home improvement store and probably stores like Walmart.

5. Time saving tip. Making a paper-mâché model takes multiple layers of newspaper strips covered in glue. One layer should be dry before you apply the next layer. If your layers are not drying in a couple of hours, you can speed up the drying process by using a hair dryer to dry the glue.

Watching glue dry is about as much fun as it looks.

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6. It’s a family project. While most of the work was done by my 3rd grader, they are going to need some help. This might not be as much of an issue with older kids, but be prepared to roll your sleeves up. Forming a mountain base out of strips of cut-up cardboard is trickier than it looks even if you do have a college degree and several professional certifications.

Trust me.

7. Be creative with your materials. There’s no need to break the bank for one of these school projects. Shop your house. A beach ball makes an excellent base for a globe. A Chipotle bowl can be uses as a project base. Wood skewers and leftover beads can be flag holders. Bushes can be made from sponges. Rocks and gravel can be collected from outside. Lego people are also the perfect size for giving the project a human touch.

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8. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Remember. This is an elementary school project. You don’t want to waste too much time making it look good. That’s a sure way to let the teacher know your kid was off playing video games while mom and dad did the project.

Instead, let the details be child-directed. So what if the paint isn’t perfect or the model really could have used another layer of newspaper? I guarantee they are still going to get an A+ because you were the only one crazy enough to go the extra mile your child went the extra mile to do this project.

9. Enjoy the moment. Even if you have to nag a little to get your child to finish this project, enjoy the small moments. Those times when they share something that’s on their mind just because you were both sitting quietly. Those times when they look at you triumphantly because that blob of newspaper actually looks like a mountain now.

While it pains me a little to say this, I’m happy we did these projects. I’m also happy we are done with these projects. We are done with these projects, right?!

P.S. This site was a great resource for all of the different ways to make paper-mâché paste.

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