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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fall Botanical Plaster Casts for Homeschooling

A fun learning tool that kids can help make too!

This activity is rich in teaching moments.

Now is a great time of year for nature walks and collecting. "Seeds" galore (in all manner of formations) for tables, craft projects, decorating , and exploration.

The seasons are changing so dramatically. Plenty of opportunities to talk about migration, hybernation, the harvest, and life cycles of all kinds.

I had a lot of plaster left over from the homemade chalk and I wanted a way to explore botany in our Montessori home classroom. Not only does the plaster pick up some amazing fine details, the plaques are a great way for little hands to explore the shapes and textures in the learing process.

To cast you will need a mold and some plaster of paris.

I just cut the bottom off a frozen food tray.

Other possibilites are air drying or polymer clay, melted wax and salt dough.

Be sure to find plant parts to illustrate the full life cycle.

Fill a large tub with sand.

Add just enough water so that it will pick up fine details easily. There is a fine balance of sand and water.

Insert your mold and two dowels or pencils.

You can experiment with pressing and removing objects or leaving them in the molds for both relief and
inprinted forms. Leaves should be a fresh as possible.

Your child will enjoy the messy work of mixing the sand and pressing in the botanical specimens.

Some people use plastic wrap over the sand to avoid inbedding it in the plaster but you will loose small details and the sand adds a nice texture for kids with sensory needs.

(this is a bad example of what your mixed material should look like, it is lumpy and preset due to humidity)

Mix your plaster of paris according to the directions on the container. This should all be done outside as you do not want plaster hardening in your pipes. You and your child will be a mess by the end of the activity
(but that is what makes it fun, right!). Now you know why there are no photos of the two of us doing the first set of plaques together. Imagine little hands covered in lots of setting plaster free to roam around.

You can add a bit more water if it is too thick. You don't want it to soak into the sand but neither do you want to have to spread it like frosting. It should easily pour into the mold in a single, smooth and level layer.

There should be no lumps ( I like using a metal whisk for this) and you will have to work fast as the plaster gets thick and harder to work with within a few minutes. It is best to be prepared and set to go before you mix.

You can spoon the plaster onto any leaves, this will weigh them down and keep the plaster from flowing under the specimens and inbedding them permanently.

Once you have poured the plaster you want for each plaque do not move or shake your tub and mold. This will create air bubbles and cracks.

After about 30 minutes you should remove the plaque, dowels, and plant parts from the mold.
Leaves should be allowed to dry for a week before carefully removing them with tweezers. Gently brush off excess sand with a fine brush. The plaque itself will continue to dry and sweat moisture for at least 48 hours. You can easily crack and damage the plaque and finer details unless it is fully dry.

Children can help add a bit of very dillute water color to the finer details to help pick them up.

Now you can add some decorative ribbon and hang your specimens for all to see or you can just store them in a box in your classroom for later exploration.

Horse Chestnut



Would be pretty on a front door too, Don't you think?

Our guinea pig is seriously ill and has to be hand fed and medicated several times a day. The Kaz. Princess has not been napping or going to bed until midnight while we have been traveling. She also dumped tea (in the rental car on the way to the airport of course) on eight hours worth of felt toys. So I am very behind on the blog and toymaking. Nana flew home last Thursday and more grandparents arrive next week. Hopefully November will be a sane month and my blog will be back to normal once again. Lesley

Check the Link Party tab above for the blogs I might have linked this post to. Don't forget to check out my new Facebook page for photos of vintage toys and projects that I don't post on My Mommmy Makes It. 


  1. wow, what a gorgeous idea, I love it! They look great all hung together

  2. Wow!! This is amazing, thank you for sharing on Creative Friday:)

  3. It's a beutiful craft! I like very much, thanks for sharing.

    Hugs from Spain
    meni :*

  4. Those are great, how creative!

  5. Lesley, Great idea and perfect to get the kiddies involved. We have spend so many hours exploring our walking trails here little guy has found so many treasures we could use! I featured this on the Sunday Showcase post. Stop by and grab a button if you like. Thanks so much for linking up. Hope you are enjoying your week! ~ Stephanie Lynn