A Town for Toy Animals!

Last week, my daughter began working with maps. We printed out a ton of worksheets that went over the concepts of directions, map keys, and using pictures to represent places. We drew maps of our house, of our bedrooms, and we put things in the wrong areas to try to trick each other. Throughout the day, directions were a main focus. If we drove to the store, we would call out directions as we went. While we were walking to the park, we would talk about the directions we were going as we walked.

After spending all day learning about directions, maps, and how they relate to each other, we came up with one more idea that would REALLY hone down our map skills. Let’s make a 3-D model of our neighborhood! We started by drawing the streets on a piece of poster board and labeling them. Kat helped with this and learned how to make measurements and draw straight lines using a ruler. Using directions, we figured out where our house would go, as well as our neighbors’ houses.

Once we had drawn the layout of the streets, property lines, and park, it was time to do the ground work! We painted each section according to what it was and what it was used for. The roads were black, the park, vacant lot, and some of the properties were tan, and the grassy areas were green. We then used a glue and water mixture (about 3 parts glue to 1 part water – use liberally) over the tan paint, and sprinkled sand and gravel over it. Once that dried, we had some nice texture for the sandy areas in our neighborhood.

Before we could get started on the details of our town, we had to talk about how we wanted to use it. Last year, we made a model town that was more to the scale of what I thought a model town should look like. However, halfway into the project, it became clear that Kat wanted to be able to use her toys and play in the town. It should have been obvious that a little girl would want a working town for her toys to “live” in, so we had to make a few last minute adjustments.

We decided that this year’s project would be a neighborhood that her toy animals could “live” and play in. We had to let go of the idea of complete accuracy, as the houses would need to be much bigger than our spaces would allow. So Kat grabbed her toys, I handed her a ruler, a pen, and some cardboard, and we started drawing out the houses! I used a box cutter and scissors to cut out the pieces, and then let Kat at the paint so she could decorate them!

As we worked on the houses, we thought it would be nice to have some trees in the yards. We spent hours making rose trees, quilled trees, and even a lollipop tree! This part of the project was really fun, as it involved a lot of problem-solving for Kat. How do we make a lollipop tree? What would we stick the branches into? Kat had a brilliant solution to this: a milkshake straw! She took the wooden skewers we used for the branches, and using the pointed end, poked holes into the straw for the branches to fit into. We decorated the branches, and then I used the hot glue gun to secure them in place.

Kat also wanted a little hill with flowers near a vacant lot in the neighborhood. We took some foil and shaped it into a nice hill and painted it green. I trimmed the edges and glued it down. Then I took the glue and water mixture, added green paint, and liberally brushed the hill. Kat added the grassy terrain, and then we popped on some extra lollipops from the lollipop tree.

Eventually, the neighborhood started coming together, and we began to work on a little park for her animals to play in. We brainstormed ideas for a slide, as the one we made last year (by melting and shaping a plastic spoon) wouldn’t work very well in this town. Again, Kat came up with a beautiful solution to our problem, by grabbing a paper towel roll and suggesting that we cut it in half. It worked beautifully! We tested it, and her animals could use it without our having to hold the slide down.

Once the slide was finished, it was time for the swing set! Id’ say that this was the most complicated part of our project, as we had never made a working swing set before. I looked online for model swing set ideas, and couldn’t find any that people had built themselves (aside from model kits), so I decided to get ideas from actual swing set building instructions. I used tongue depressors to build the A-frame, securing them with hot glue. Then I used a small screwdriver to drill a hole into the top, and fit a wooden skewer through it. Kat measured and drew the outline for the swings while I cut them out. We used fishing string to make our “chains” and tied them to the swing.

We added a few finishing touches to our town, and then it was finally finished! Kat could play with her toys in her cute little town, and she had learned about directions, height, width, measuring in straight lines, and had done some excellent problem-solving!

At last, Kat could take her animals to play in their neighborhood! She was quite proud of herself for our accomplishment this week. I think this is going to continue to be a hit with her for a long time.

If you would like to make your own 3-D neighborhood, here are the materials we used as well as some helpful links!

Glue Gun (this is instrumental – if you don’t have one, Michael’s sells it for $4)
Box Cutter
Aluminum Foil
Tongue Depressors
Terrain Grass (can be found at hobby stores)
Wooden Skewers
Tissue Paper
Small Sticks
Milkshake Straw
Glue and Water mixture (I added a bit of the color of paint I was going to apply this to. If you want a clear glossy coat though, use only glue and water)
Sand from your backyard or nearby park

Here are some websites we used to get ideas for our trees:

Rose TreesEye Trees and Lollipop Trees

I highly recommend doing a google image search for paper trees. It will brighten your day!

For the flower pots, we used the instructions for the Rose Trees and made them smaller. It worked perfectly!

Have fun making your own town with your kids! It was a great project for us, we learned a lot about solving problems to make things (like the swing!) work, but the best part was seeing how creative we could get with our town and watching it evolve from a standard neighborhood to a sort of fairy tale place!

Happy Exploring!

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