Waterless Aquariums - Free Tutorial

Monday found me toting my bag of tricks to the library to make a magical project for the 'Splash into summer reading' program.  Fifty children arrived with jars and matching lids ready to create. After reading the classic story Fish out of Water by Helen Palmer, the kids were inspired to make clay fish that would never need feeding.

We spread a tarp of blue water over the center of the floor to create a protected community work surface.  The first step was to have the children form fish around a small colored paper clip. I stressed the importance of making sure the top of the paperclip emerged from the top of their finished fish. We passed each child a generous pinch of Model Magic in each of the primary colors. This was enough clay to create three fish and a few bottom dwellers. 

Crayola's model magic has a unique texture it is similar to modeling with marshmallows. It air dries in a day, the only drawback is leftovers need to be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and be used relatively quickly. I was surprised that a single 2lb tub provided enough clay for the entire group.

The children (and parents) dove right into creating, I witnessed wonderful originality, dolphins, octopus, clam shells, sharks, solid and multicolor fish instantly took shape from the blobs of clay. I wish I had remembered my camera to share images with you, I blame mom overload for this oversight.

The next step was to have the children pour an inch of aquarium gravel into the base of the jar. Next we carefully placed the bottom dwellers over the gravel. They're a little sticky if necessary use a pencil to separate and position them.

Parents helped tie a piece of fishing line to the top of each exposed paperclip.

We used packing tape to attach the end of the lines to the underside of the lid. It's important that the lines extend out in different directions and are varied in length. This will prevent the fish from clumping together. If possible it's a good idea to let the clay dry before placing the fish in the jar.

When my son Elliot was studying fish in first grade we procured giant pickle jars from a friend in food service. The kids spent several hours creating elaborate aquariums with lots of fish.

Thanks to my friend Erin for having a camera in her purse so I could take a snap of some of my favorite young artists!

It was a joy to to share this project with the kids it brought back fond memories of my days as contributing editor to Crayola Kids Magazine.