How to make a diorama of an animal habitat

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 favourite 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 mini-shoe box-sized diorama that depicts the home of any animal, using recycled items, natural objects and craft materials.

Create background

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

Turn the shoebox on one of the long sides with the opening facing you. Use a pencil to sketch a background that extends from the back wall of the box to 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 tray. Paint the back, sides, and bottom of the box the appropriate landscape colours. Start at the top of the back and sides and work down. This will help you to avoid dripping over newly painted parts. Set aside to dry.

Add scenes

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

Bubble cut the foliage items with the scissors. This can be done by leaving a 6 mm (1/4 inch) bubble around each tree, plant, bush or flower. Leave a small 6 mm (1/4 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 shoebox.

Add raffia with glue to the box bottom as grass or hay if appropriate. Cut tissue paper squares into 7.5 by 10 cm (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 modelling 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 coloured 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.

Things You'll Need

  • Shoebox
  • Tempera paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Paint palette or tray
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Clear drying, nontoxic glue
  • Modelling clay
  • Markers
  • Raffia
  • Construction paper
  • Tissue paper
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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.