Crazy String Sculptures or Balloon Ghosts?

Share & Comment

Art group was a small affair this week — just us and Molly and Stella. Everyone else was out of town or sick or had family visiting. We made string and balloon sculptures per Barbara Z's recommendation. She said it was a popular project in her preschool class and I've been wanting to try it with the kids.

Maia cut the string first thing in the morning. I think it was her favorite part of the whole project. Cutting string was easy and fun for her. She always wants to use her scissors, but is usually frustrated by not being able to cut paper well. Any tips on that, by the way?

When Molly and Stella showed up, we mixed paint and glue. Stella and Maia each squeezed a bottle of glue into a bowl. We added the paint colors that they chose, and they mixed the glue and paint together, adding water from a squeeze bottle to water it down a bit. I don't think we got the mixture quite right — either we added too much paint, or maybe we shouldn't have watered it down. Not sure.

I hung the balloons from the swing set and the girls dipped pieces of string into the paint-glue mixture and draped them over the balloon. It was fun, if a bit tricky–the balloons kept moving, the string slid down the balloon until there were enough pieces to provide friction, the girls got paint in their hair and all over their bodies.

After a while the balloons were abandoned for the kiddie pool and water play.

I left them up until they dried, then popped the balloons. Kind of ghostly, don't you think? I think I'd try this again, but maybe inside over a bowl to hold it in place, and in a location that we could keep working on it over the course of a few days… Any tips, Anyone? Barbara?

Share & Comment
Subscribe to The Artful Parent newsletter


  1. andreamcmann says

    Sorry, no tips, but your post reminded me that I want to try that project. Maybe this weekend… As for kids using scissors, I think Maia will get better as her fine motor skills develop more. My son used to have a lot of trouble, but now that he’s almost six, I think he’s a better cutter than I am!! :)
    Happy Weekend!

  2. says

    I remember making these as a kid! I always thought they were a bit ghostly, too.
    Scissors just take awhile…my four year old is just starting to get really good with them. There was a lot of frustration before she was able to control them well. I have seen workbooks meant for working on scissor skills.

  3. says

    Curious what paint you used. My 2-year-old loves painting, but so far I’ve limited him to watercolors and water because he’s so messy and experimental (he will paint his face, his hands, etc.). Still looking for a good non-watercolor paint for toddlers.

  4. Barbara says

    I think they came out great! The only thing I did differently was to skip the water. And, very early on, I wrapped one of the gluey strings around the balloon to give the kids’ strings (which tended to go up and down) something to hold onto. One of the teachers at my school suggested spraying the baloons with PAM so that the strings wouldn’t collapse with the balloon. I admit that my original “plan” was for the strings to retain the balloon shape, but in the end, I like our collapsed look better. Another teacher suggested doing this without color but with glow-in-the-dark paint. At Halloween we build a haunted house (basically a small dark one-room house) and the glow-in-the-dark would be neat hanging in there. This is what I love about free art; there’s no right or wrong way to do it, even if you start with a plan. Some of the best artwork was a complete surprise when the kids’ made changes to our “plans.”
    Don’t worry about Maia’s cutting. Let her continue with string; let her cut playdough or clay; when she’s interested, let her cut Mardi Gras beads apart. This is one of my fours’ favorite things to cut; they can’t cut them “wrong” (if there is such a thing in art) because the round beads guide the scissors to the “right” place. And we end up with lots of beads for our art center! Just be sure the kids are past the oral stage since the beads are small. My fours start the school year with a wide range of abilities from facile cutters to kids who may never have held a pair of scissors. By five almost every one has become proficient.

  5. cygnetsmall says

    The balloon string looks really cool. (This is molly, by the way — I just started a new blog the other day and it is automatically signed in when I leave a comment!)
    We are going through the same thing with the scissors right now. You could try cutting thin strips of paper, an inch wide or so and letting her have a go at it that way. Then the pieces could be used for some other project if you feel like it.

  6. Molly C says

    Hey Jean
    I think the picture looks great and that we should try it again! It was so much fun! For cutting, play dough is really good because it doesn’t move, the more Maia builds the muscles in her hands, the better she will get at it.

  7. Ann says

    I start kids cutting play dough first. I let 18 to two year olds flatten play dough and cut it with scissors to their hearts content. When they tire of that I put all kinds of paper in a box and let them cut, cut, cut. It is best to let them practice cuting with no lines and no particular project in mind for a long time. (years)

  8. says

    I love this idea… it looks like a lot of fun… I really think glow in the dark would be so nifty… We will have to try this… When we can go outside again… right now it is too smokey here because of the forest fires near here… So until then we are play dough cutting and staying out of trouble :)~

  9. says

    Thanks, Barbara! Glow in the dark string sculptures would be a fun halloween-time project! We’ll have to try the scissors with mardi gras beads–never thought of that…
    Molly – I couldn’t get through to your new blog. What’s the address?
    Everyone else – thanks for the comments! I pulled the popped balloons out of the string sculptures. And the paint we used is tempera paint, which we use for a lot of our painting projects. We buy nontoxic, washable tempera paint which does wash off most things well although it’s not always 100% washable with clothes.

  10. Thimbleina says

    I have helped mine to cut paper by putting my fingers into the scissors at the same time as there’s so they then hold the scissors at the right angle to cut the paper and show them how to hold the paper at the same time, then I do the cutting action with them for a bit and when they have the hang of it I take my fingers out so they can carry on. It does take a few sessions before they get the hang of it and of course you need scissors you can get your your fingers into as well. At the toddler group they have scissors with double holes for this, so you can buy special scissors for while they are learning. I shall try to post a picture on my blog.

  11. cygnetsmall says

    Jean – it is, I’m not exactly sure how to make it show up. Another little technical something to work on! :)

  12. says

    From the git-go, I’ve allowed Mr. Intensity to use sharp scissors. The dull ones are FRUSTRATING. I feel comfortable about this since we must be together for him to use them. I think this has helped his cutting skills.

  13. Tracy Moore says

    Here’s my 2 cents on cutting practice. Star with good kids scissors. I like fiskars. Try them yourself and you can quickly tell if they are good or poor. I make a work for my preschoolers of cutting yarn. Pop a ball of yarn in a cube tissue box and poke a tiny hole in the side. Feed the yarn out and show her how to pull a little piece and snip, pull and snip.I save the bits for art projects or give to birds in spring for nesting material.
    Like someone else said cut strips of paper thin enough that one tiny snip will cut it ( maybe a centimeter wide) . Increase the size as she gets better. Colorful construction paper or wallpaper samples make this more appealing. Again save bits for collage. My personal favorite for this is paint sample strips. Ask at the Depot or walmart or your local paint store and you may score a huge inventory when they change seasons. These are soooo appealing you may start snipping yourself. Cut in 2 or3 strips the long way as she works her way up to wider pieces.On these you can encourage her to cut on the white “lines” between the shades.And of course…save the pieces for collage or other projects.
    A parent gave me the great idea of the preschool paper shredder. Save junk mail and give it to her to cut into small pieces. Be sure to tell her how important this job is for your family.This is good when she can cut something that takes more than one snip.
    Finally, WAAAAAAAY down the road as she is ready try this site to download cutting sheets. I copy these onto the brights paper to make them more fun and advertise them as “crazy cutting” . Kids love them but this is a ways off for Maia.
    Happy scissoring!

  14. says

    Oh wow, this is the coolest thing! You never seem to amaze me!

  15. says

    Hahahaha! That was to be…You never CEASE to amaze me of course. You are so great. Thanks for all of your help with bringing art and joy into our home.