Connection during COVID-19: Let’s Make a Home for a Plastic Animal

Hi there! While the art room is temporarily closed due to the pandemic, I’m sharing a weekly art activity for you and your child to try at home. These activities are an invitation to spend a few minutes together creating and connecting. They might also provide opportunities to talk about what’s happening and how you’re feeling. 

The activities are not art therapy in themselves, but they are some of my favourite activities to share with clients. After explaining how to do the activity, I’ll tell you why I love doing it with kids, and suggest some possible discussion topics. This week, our activity is something I LOVED to do when I was a kid. 

Growing up I had quite the collection of plastic animals. I enjoyed playing with them, but even more than that, I loved creating habitats for them. As a huge fan of nature documentaries and visits to the Toronto Zoo, I took pride in learning facts about the different animals. I would remember these facts as I used my creativity and imagination to create homes for my toys. 

bin of plastic animals

If it was a nice day, I would take my plastic animals outside and find a perfect little nook under a tree or a spot in the grass. I would collect rocks, twigs, leaves, or any other nature objects I could find, and use these materials to create shelters, enclosures, gardens, or scenes for the animals. 

If it was rainy or I couldn’t go outside, I would play the same game inside. I remember using a blue towel to make water for my plastic whales, and building a climbing structure out of blocks for the orangutan family. I borrowed my brother’s Lego trees to make a forest for the bears, and collected boxes and containers to create houses for the jungle cats. Sometimes I would imagine that I was a zookeeper and carefully consider which animals would make great neighbours. Could they share any of their habitats? Which animals needed more space? Where would they be happiest? What did they need?  

 I felt so creative and empowered as I made the perfect home for each of my animal friends. I enjoyed “taking care” of the animals using my creativity. These are some of my happiest memories of childhood play. 

Right now as we are all staying home to help flatten the curve of COVID-19, I thought it would be the perfect time to revisit this childhood activity. Kids are spending ALL of their time at home, and they might have a lot of feelings about this! Introducing the theme of home into play is a great way to open up discussion about our current situation, and to help children reflect on their own needs as well as the needs of others. 

So, let’s make a home for a plastic animal!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A plastic animal toy
  2. Materials to create a home for the animal. This could be anything, really! You can use whatever you have on hand. Here are a few ideas to spark your creativity:
    • Natural materials (leaves, twigs, rocks, acorns, dirt, grass, bark, etc.)
    • Recycled materials (paper towel rolls, cardboard, newspaper, tissue paper, plastic containers, bottle lids, jar lids, takeout containers, egg cartons, etc.)
    • Craft materials (pom poms, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, feathers, fabric scraps, etc.) 
    • Elements from other toy sets (Lego trees, Playmobil plants, Barbie baskets, etc.)
    • Found objects from around the house (towels, dish cloths, plastic cups, maybe a few hearty succulents with a caregiver’s permission?) 

Here’s what you do:

Take a few minutes to think about your chosen animal. Where do they live in nature? What do they eat? Where do they sleep? What do they like to do? What might they need in their home to make it just right? Do they need lots of space? Do they need hiding places? Do they need sun, shade, or trees to climb? You can also use your imagination. Maybe your chosen animal is a dinosaur or a unicorn. Make up the answers to these questions! 

In my example, I chose a giraffe. My giraffe likes to walk around and stretch her long legs. She’s a vegetarian and loves to eat plants like grass or hay. She likes to feel the heat of the sun, as long as she has cool water to drink. She also doesn’t like getting wet in the rain, so she needs a very tall house she can stand inside to stay dry. She is scared of lions, so she needs a wall or a fence around her home to keep the lions out. 

giraffe face
Photo by Charl Durand

Next, use a variety of materials to create the perfect home for your animal. Think about what your animal needs, and find a way to meet those needs through the habitat you create. Maybe you want to build something using recycled or craft materials. I built my giraffe a tall house using a paper towel roll, some cardboard, and some newspaper. 

house made from paper towel roll and cardboard

If you’re playing outside, use natural materials to add fences, burrows, gardens, or dens. My outside habitat features a leaf swimming pool for my giraffe, a stick fence and archway, a bark gate, a rock wall, and lots of grass for snacking on. 

If you’re playing inside, use other toys or objects from around the house to create an environment. My inside habitat includes some succulent “trees,” a pom pom drinking fountain, some recycled paper “hay,” some cardboard “sand” and some felt “grass” surrounded by a rock fence. 

Place your animals inside their homes. Tell each other all about the special features of your animal’s home, and what makes it just right for their needs. Is anything missing? How does your animal feel about its home? Do you need to make any changes? 

After creating my giraffe’s home, I wondered if my giraffe might be feeling lonely. I thought that she needed a friend. So, I created a home for my giraffe’s friend, the hippo. Hippo and giraffe are each in their separate environments, but they can see each other over the rock wall and say hello. This reminded me of how we are all staying home right now, and we might feel lonely and miss our friends. But we can still stay connected and talk to each other, being together while apart. The animals at the zoo are pros at this! Thinking about their separate but together habitats brought me some comfort and reminded me that I am never truly alone. 

Variations:

  1. If your child is missing someone (maybe a grandparent or a friend), invite them to choose an animal to represent their loved one, and then create a cozy environment for them. This may help them to feel connected to their loved one, and feel like they can DO something with their feelings. 
  2. If you don’t have plastic animals or materials to make a 3-dimensional home, you can make a drawing instead. Invite your child to draw an animal, and then add the perfect home all around them. Draw the animal’s food, shelter, surrounding environment, etc. 

Rationale (here’s why I love this activity):

    • It builds empathy by encouraging kids to think about how the animals might feel and what they need
    • It can feel empowering for kids to be able to care for the animal 
    • It gives children a sense of control over the environment (this is especially important right now as they have so little control over many aspects of their lives) 
    • It encourages creative thinking to imagine new uses for everyday objects and materials 
    • It’s a great way to start a conversation about how your child is feeling and what they need
aerial view of neighbourhood
Photo by Breno Assis

Some things you might talk about: 

    • Are there any similarities between you and the animal you chose? (eg. cheetahs are really fast, and your child loves running fast) 
    • How does the animal feel in its environment? 
    • How do YOU feel spending so much time at home lately? 
    • What does the animal need everyday? 
    • What do YOU need everyday? (eg. snacks, water, play time, outside time if possible)
    • How does it feel to take care of your plastic animal?

If there is anything that I can do to support your family, I would love to hear from you

See you next week!

Written by Rubi Garyfalakis, DTATI, RP, RCAT

pinterest graphic with featured image and title of blog post