How to Make a Diorama of an Animal Habitat

    by Erica Loop

    About the Author

    Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.


    Animals can be found everywhere on Earth. Whether in the water, on an icy surface, in the arid desert, or in the depths of a densely wooded forest, nature's great habitats provide a vast variety of scenic beauty. Translate the habitat of your favorite animal into an imaginative diorama. The art of the diorama has a rich history including full-sized forms found in museums, as well as mini masterpieces for a scaled-down depiction. Create a shoebox-sized diorama that depicts the home of any animal, using recycled items, natural objects and craft materials.

    Things You'll Need

    • Shoe box
    • Tempera paint
    • Paintbrush
    • Paint palette or foam plate
    • Pencil
    • Scissors
    • Clear drying, nontoxic glue
    • Markers
    • Raffia
    • Construction paper
    • Tissue paper
    • Air-drying modeling clay

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    Make a Habitat Background

    Choose the specific animal habitat that you want to make. Habitats include the African savanna, the forest, the desert, the prairie, the rain forest, the icy Arctic, and others.

    Turn the shoe box on one of the long sides with the opening facing you. Use a pencil to sketch a background that extends across the back wall of the box and onto the two sides. Try starting with a horizon line to separate the earth (or water) and the sky. Keep it simple and stick to basic geographic features, such as mountain ranges or rolling hills.

    Sketch habitat features on the bottom of the box. Items to include may be steams, rock areas, or a beach area, depending on your chosen habitat.

    Pour the paint onto a palette or plate. Paint the back, sides, and bottom of the box the appropriate landscape colors. Start at the top of the back and sides and work down. This will help you to avoid dripping over newly painted parts. Set the box aside to dry.

    Add Scenes to Your Diorama

    Draw the appropriate foliage for your habitat onto the construction paper. This may include trees, plants, bushes or flowers. Color the foliage in with markers or paint.

    Bubble cut the foliage items with the scissors. This can be done by leaving a small quarter inch bubble around tree, plant, bush or flower. Leave a small quarter inch tab at the bottom.

    Fold the tab under and apply a thin line of glue. Attach the glued tab to the bottom of the shoe box.

    Add raffia to the box bottom with glue for grass or hay, if appropriate. Cut scenery-colored tissue paper into 3- by 4-inch rectangles. Crumple the paper and glue to the bottom of the box as pop-up plant life, rocks, or snow drifts.

    Mold the animals needed out of modeling clay. Tear small segments of clay apart and roll into balls or tubes. Use tubes for legs and balls for the animal's body and head. Press the clay pieces together firmly to assemble the animal. Position the animal in its habitat.

    • Create scenic landscapes with extra special materials, such as cotton batting sprinkled with glitter for snow or colored foil as sparkling stream water.
    • Use found objects from nature for a realistic effect. Select rocks, twig, or leaves depending on your habitat.
    • Only use nontoxic materials that are safe for children. Consult the age-grading guidelines on the label for accurate use.
    • Supervise children at all times during the diorama project.

    Photo Credits