Ingredients: Mod-rock (£3.50 per 5metre roll on Amazon), chicken wire & poster paints; DIY or shop-bought modelling clay (see recipe below or £6.75 for 1kg on Amazon); junk modelling of any sort you have to hand.

The Big Sell: As my Nana always said “I want doesn’t get!” but if you want to make your own … it does!

Strategy: Is your beloved child desperate for the latest Star Wars / Harry Potter [insert any merchandising nightmare of your choice] toy, which is out of your price range? I’ve found if children are given the option of making their own robot / space ship / stage set etc.. they are equally if not more happy with the result, than if one was bought for them. Our home is homage to many DIY replicas from my son’s latest craze.

Here’s an easy guide to modelling a Make-Your-Own toy:

1)      Wearing your thickest gardening gloves and pliers, get snipping some chicken wire into the shape of your choice (in the case above, R2-D2). Make sure the sharp ends are bent into the centre of the model – this is a job best done by an adult. Once the shape is formed, cover the kitchen table in plastic sheeting and soak cut lengths of mod rock (bandage soaked in plaster of paris) in water before draping them onto the wire frame. This is a job your child will really enjoy joining in with as it’s methodical and messy! The boring bit is waiting for the plaster to set (leave for a good 24 hours to be sure) then get painting your design. Hey presto, one life-size R2-D2 for your child to enjoy!

 2)     Follow this recipe to make your own air-drying clay if you can’t afford to buy any:

1 cup cornflour

2 cups salt

1 cup warm water

You add food colouring if you want. Mix together in a pan on a low heat, until it becomes sticky and solidified. Then knead with your hands (you may have to do this until it becomes cool enough for your child to handle).

This clay should keep pliable for at least a week if wrapped well in cling-film. When your child is ready, they can model their clay into any shape of their choice, and leave to dry for at least 24 hours to ensure it goes hard and dry all the way through. Once dry, they can paint if they wish. Good for modelling their favourite characters, both baddies and goodies – you could make a marvellous snake or three-headed dog for Harry Potter to battle.

3)     Junk modelling – THE staple activity in our household. The only problem a parent faces with junk modelling is gauging the right time to sneakily disassemble and return their models back into the recycling bin, otherwise the house would be over-run with their masterpieces! My eldest junk-models EVERY DAY after school, and no cereal box, bottle, straw, piece of string, egg box is safe as it goes straight into his Junk modelling box which lives in an easy access spot beside a sellotape dispenser and some decent scissors. He recently made The Chamber of Secrets by combining a cylindrical tube in the top of a large cardboard box, with a tangle of green wool hanging below for Devil’s Snare and shiny foil for the watery lake. We simply added chess pieces & a toy snake, and his Harry Potter figurine could drop in to his very own sophisticated stage set.

The Verdict: In my experience, it tends to be adults who discriminate between shop bought and homemade toys – children are not so fussy as long as they can indulge their latest passion. Modelling of any kind provides a child with the feeling that their dreams are within their own grasp – rather than waiting for birthdays (by which time they’ve often lost interest in the latest fad) this offers an immediate and animated way of bringing to life the stories which occupy their imaginations.  Given a little mess and patience, modelling isn’t tricky and provides grand results for your efforts – a satisfying activity to work on together.

Catchphrase: Right … who can provide the best R2-D2 sound effects?!

Left wanting more?

  • The grand masters of modelling, and homegrown UK heroes, have to be Aardman Animations – creators of Wallace & Gromit, Morph & Shaun the Sheep – all favourites in our house. You can buy a Make Your Own Morph set – £9.10 on Amazon currently – which includes a DVD. I love that our homemade Wallace and Gromit figurines have been given superb play possibilities by being combined with an electric train set or a junk-modelled Dog Food Crusher machine, we can recreate their best screen moments.
  • Once you’ve mastered the basics of modelling you could move on to live animation. I’ll follow up how to tackle this in a later blog! (To be cont ….)