Jungle in a Box

by Wendy Copley on May 22, 2013

How to Make a Jungle in a Box

I received a Jo-Ann gift card to purchase supplies for this project and share the process with you.

Summer vacation is almost here and I find I am constantly on the look-out for activities I will be able to use to occupy my boys in the afternoons. I’m browsing Pinterest, reading everyone’s summer fun lists and restocking our art supplies. We like to do things outside of course, but in the SF Bay Area summers are often kind of chilly so I’m looking for inside activities too. When the folks at Jo-Ann invited me to try a project from their Cape-Discovery catalog, I was excited to pick a project and recreate it with Wyatt and Augie at home. The three of us flipped through the catalog together and the jungle diorama project was the clear favorite with both kids so we checked to see what supplies we had on hand and then headed to our local Jo-Ann to get the rest of the things we needed.

Jungle Diorama - supplies

These are the materials we used:

  • Storage boxes — we chose a green floral pattern because it was king of jungle-y
  • Toob Animals — we bought the “Wild” and “Rainforest” sets and we already had some plastic dinosaurs that Augie wanted to use
  • Plastic trees  — we pulled ours out of the toy box
  • Dried ferns
  • Large polished river rocks
  • Small rocks — we got ours from our yard
  • Moss assortment
  • Sticks from the yard
  • Acrylic paints — I bought a bottle of light blue and then supplemented with some brown and green paint I had on hand
  • Paint brushes
  • Hot glue gun & glue
  • Scissors
  • Wire cutters

Here’s how we put the dioramas together:

Jungle Diorama - Augie painting

First we painted the interiors of the boxes light blue. Augie and I did both boxes while Wyatt was at school so we could start working on the rest of the project as soon as he got home.

Jungle Diorama - river bed

To make the boxes stand upright, you lay them on their sides in their lids. When Wyatt saw the plain white box lid, he decided it was way too boring and asked if he could paint his lid to look like a river.

Well, yeah! Of course! I got a few bottles of brown and green paint out of the craft cupboard and the boys decorated the insides of their box lids too.

Jungle Diorama - in progress

Next, we glued the ferns on back of the box to look like a trees in the distance. I ran the hot glue gun and the kids cut the ferns and told me where to put them. At four, Augie is too young to run the hot glue gun (though he really wants too), and while Wyatt is old enough and competent enough at age 8, he’s too nervous to do it.

Next, we glued the large river rocks onto the base portion, then filled in the smaller spaces with smaller rocks, sticks and plastic trees. (Yeah, we used plastic pine trees in our jungle scene — wanna make something of it? We have a grizzly bear and an iguanadon in there too.)  We added moss to the empty spaces between the rocks to make the scene look more lush, too.

Jungle Diorama -- details

The kids also took great delight in gluing rocks and moss and a monkey to the sides and roof of the box.

The instructions for this project instructed us to glue the animals into the scene, but the kids both wanted to keep their animals un-glued so they could play with them.

Once we were done with all the gluing, I asked the kids to arrange their boxes just the way they like it so I could take a photo for this post.

Here is Wyatt’s:

Jungle Diorama - Wyatt's completed

I love how he incorporated the river into this scene and how he arranged the bear to drink from it and the alligator to swim in it.

And here is Augie’s box:

Jungle Diorama - Augie completed

It may not look like it, but he spent a good five minutes carefully piling his animals on top of the rocks. He explained that they are a big family and that the brothers all like to sleep together in a pile. Gotcha!

Jungle Diorama - Augie's pared down

This is what his box looks like with a more judicious number of animals included in the scene.

There are two things I really loved about this project:

  1. In addition to the fun we had making these, the finished boxes are really fun to play with. The kids — especially Augie — have played with them several times since we initially put them together and they enjoy making up stories and creating adventures for the animals. One afternoon of construction, many afternoons of play!
  2. The boxes are easy to store. Often we make craft projects and then there’s no good place to put them besides on an already cluttered display shelf. These boxes can be displayed, of course, but I also like that we can toss all the animals inside, put on the lid and stack them in a toy cubby in the kids’ room.

Do you ever make home made play sets with your kids?

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