Making a Shoebox Diorama
For a School Project or Just for Fun
The classic shoebox diorama is a childhood rite of passage. Although it can be used for schoolwork, your children may enjoy making them just for fun. Make one with your child today using this step-by-step tutorial.
All you need is a box of some type, some paper, scissors, glue, and basic art supplies such as markers or crayons.
Step One: Create a Base
The base can be anything— the traditional shoebox is only one option. We tend to use tissue boxes because we always have those on hand.
Look around your house and especially the kitchen for any kind of reusable container— cardboard, plastic, or tin. Think creatively! Odd things such as a cookie tin, a juice can, or a plastic ice cream bucket could make for an original diorama. Look at this one using a paper plate! Almost anything can be used.
Step Two: Create the Background
The simplest background could be colored paper— green for grass, blue for sky, brown for earth, blue for water, etc. Or get creative with patterned papers or draw your own.
If you need a little help, try these image files at Brownielocks. Each is a watercolor painting that might be just what you need for a background— a river with grass, an autumn tree, a winter scene, or a fence and wildflowers.
Step Three: Make and Place Your Figures
Use coloring pages printed from the Internet to make figures for your diorama. Search for "[your topic] coloring pages" in your favorite search engine.
Color your images and consider how you want to mount them to the diorama. Below is an example of a coloring page I printed for free from Coloring Castle. I drew in tabs based on where I wanted my figures to be located.
If you want to mount a figure to the bottom (which is where I want the flower to be), then leave a one inch tab at the bottom of the picture when you cut it out. Fold back the tab, and glue it to the bottom of the diorama.
If you want it to hang from the top, add a one inch tab to the top.
Another variation is to use string, yarn, or ribbon to suspend objects from the top of the box. In this way, they will swing and give more of a dynamic effect.
And of course, if you want a figure to come out from the side, leave a tab on the side of the image.
You can also use three dimensional paper models in your dioramas. Here are some wonderful free resources for those:
Or look in your toy chest for small figurines that would suit. Or build something from Lego blocks or Sculpey clay if you don't have quite what you need.
Plan your placement of the figures. Once you're sure of the placement, glue them on. I like to use rubber cement so that if something is not quite right, it can be repositioned.
If all of your figures are inside the box, you may want to cover the opening with plastic wrap. For underwater scenes, this makes a more realistic finish.
The Word "Diorama"
comes from Greek roots di (through) + orama (that which is seen, a sight).
Its use, meaning "a small-scale replica of a scene," dates back to 1902.
Uses and Applications for Dioramas
a tool for story telling
a book report
a snapshot of history
a 3D science model
a fun playtime activity
a creative alternative to a birthday, anniversary, or get well card
a 3D scrapbooking project to memorialize a trip or other important event
Visit These Links for Free Printables!
- Habitat Dioramas
Print and color these wetland, desert, and rainforest freebies.
- Prairie Mobile
There's even a full color image that could serve as a background.
These are painfully simple, but they may serve as a good foundation for your own ideas.
- Enchanted Learning
This site has printables for ocean, forest, and dinosaur habitat scenes. I like the directions for 3D trees!
- Figures of Jesus and the Children
This PDF has directions and full color images.
This PDF from the National Zoo gives directions for making a panda diorama with authentic Chinese habitat. The last page has images of foliage and animals to cut out!
- More Dinosaurs
This full color PDF has both figures and backgrounds.
- Outer Space
A full color PDF with astronauts, a space background, space shuttle, and lunar lander. Just cut out and glue into your box.
- Stand Up Symphony
This free printable is from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. It is complete with a conductor and musicians to color and cut out. There is also a guide to show you how to arrange them correctly.
- Back Yard Above and Below
This is a sample from Scholastic.
Directions for Making Various Types of Dioramas
- Under the Sea Theater Box
One Busy Mama presents a delightful tutorial for making a theater style diorama. The figures can be moved with pipe cleaners that stick out on the top of the box. Very, very fun!
- Dinosaur Diorama in Seven Steps
A great idea for reusing a cardboard box. I love how this was made completely by children. The backgrounds were drawn by hand and the dinosaurs were molded from rainbow clay!
- Making Sea Fans and Coral Reefs
Another ocean scene, but this post from Homeschool Creations is quite original— plastic canvas sea fans plus Playdough coral.
- Art Attack 3D Picture Box
Directions for making a general scene with clear photographs at each step.
- Box Living Room
I love this craft because it uses boxes from household packages. Thrifty fun!
- Habitat Diorama
This three tiered scene is a wonderful explanation of the layers of the rainforest.
This ambitious project makes a big impression! Glean some ideas from the photos and directions.
Dover Cut and Assemble Dioramas - Paper Models to Cut Out and Assemble
Dover's cut-and-assemble models are make dioramas easy. Just cut out the full color shapes which are printed on cardstock. Follow the assembly directions to create your 3D models.
When You Don't Have a Box
These variations don't require a box at all. Large sheets of paper, folded into 3D shapes, are all that's required.
- Pyramid Tutorial
The pyramid diorama is also called a triarama. This how-to walks you through the steps with photographs.
- Crayola's Triarama
This shows a possible triarama comparing two seasons in one habitat. Another example features a train ride across Canada.
- Pop-up Doll House Scene
A very clever idea! Use a file folder (or other sturdy cardstock) to make a pop-up scene that can be folded flat for storage.
- How to Make a Pop-Up Photograph
This wikiHow article of 9 steps (with pictures) shows how to put yourself into a pop-up scene using photographs! Very, very neat!
- How to Make a Tunnel Book
Tunnel books are made so that when you look through them, it gives the effect of looking at a 3D landscape! These directions are geared toward a more advanced papercrafter, so simplify it for a child.
This site is really fun for a more advanced student. You need a panoramic digital photo for your background and cardstock to form the base. This tutorial even includes some templates to use.
- Miniature Parade Floats
What a neat idea for a homeschool co-op or class project! Make rolling, small scale floats for a parade! These examples feature a 50 states theme, but you could use the parade float idea for any topic.
Reproducible Books with Diorama Patterns
The images are photos of projects here were taken from Scholastic Books, which have such neat papercrafts, and they are so easy! Just copy the templates, color them in, cut them out, and assemble them. The books are meant to be photocopied rather than consumed, so you can use this book over and over.