Friday, February 15, 2013

Elementary Activities: DIY Piñata

by: Deborah Pace Rowley

In science, my class has been studying the atmosphere. To liven up our studies, we made hot air balloon piñatas. Each piñata was named for a scientist that made a significant contribution to our understanding of the atmosphere. Making a homemade piñata is so much more fun than buying one from a store. The process is actually very simple and inexpensive. Piñatas are basically hollow paper-mache shapes filled with candy. For the paper-mache, you can use a traditional flour and water paste, but I have a student who is allergic to gluten and can't breathe flour in the air without a reaction. So I found a simple alternative that I prefer even more to the typical solution.

All you need for this project is a balloon, some liquid starch (I bought mine near the laundry detergents and spray starches at Walmart), some newspaper and some paper towels. Coat the strips of paper with the liquid starch, squeeze off the excess and apply to the balloon. Then repeat several times.

I used both newspaper and paper towels because then it makes it easier for you to distinguish between layers. The students would cover the balloon entirely in newspaper strips. Then when every inch of the balloon was covered, they would begin to cover it in paper towel strips. Now we knew the balloon had two complete layers. We did two layers a day on two consecutive days. Some tables snuck in a 5th layer but I felt like 4 layers made for a sturdy piñata that was also breakable.

I did make sure that the students wrapped string around the balloon before the first layer and tied it in a loop at the top. This ensured that when we went to break our piñata the string wouldn't simply break off and leave us with a hot air balloon lying unbroken on the ground.

We also left an opening at the top that we used to pop the balloon after the 4th layer had dried. We then filled the pinata with candy and paper-mached over the opening.

When the students were finished with the paper-mache process, they decorated their hot air balloons with paint. (You could also use fringed crepe paper to decorate the hot air balloon. I think stripes of fringed crepe paper would look amazing. Or how about a soccer ball or basketball piñata for a sports fan? You could even make a globe or a disco ball covered in reflective stickers for a tween.) Most of the tables decided to paint their hot air balloons in the colors of the flag of their scientist. Then we made baskets out of plastic cups and the students made little model scientists to sit inside their baskets.

They were very excited when we got to break the piñatas and the scientists went flying. (I am not sure what the lesson was there. I really don't want to know!)

We had lots of fun breaking our piñatas but even more fun making them. Instead of the thrill lasting just a few minutes, we got to extend the fun over two weeks! This would make a great project to do with an elementary school child before his or her birthday. The piñata itself cost about $2.50. Then all you need to do is add the candy and/or little toys that go inside. You could even provide some healthier alternatives when you fill a piñata on your own. Give it a try. I think you'll love it.

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