How to Make Paper Mache Masks with Fifth Grade Students
Paper mache is an extremely fun and messy project with elementary students. I did two paper mache projects with the fourth and fifth graders this year. The fifth graders have been making the masks for a while now at my school and I wanted to keep the tradition going for them. It was something they looked forward to all year. The fourth graders wanted to make masks too,but to keep it special for the fifth grade students, I had the fourth graders make bowls instead. They also turned out great and were made in the same two class periods that the fifth graders used to make their masks.
In the first class period, I had the students rip strips of newspaper to make their molds. I mixed up wheat paste with water to make the glue to dip the strips into. I mix it so that the texture is almost like pudding, about a 1/3 cup wheat paste to 2/3 cup water ratio. You can mix it a bit thinner if you like, but I think it's easier to clean up at this thickness and spills a little less than if it is runnier. You can also make paper mache with regular flour and water, use about the same ratio. I reviewed with the students how to dip the newspaper strips into the glue and then apply them to the face mold. I reminded them that they should be wiping excess glue off as they go and should make their molds at least three layers thick. Earlier in the year, we made planets using balloons as the molds in conjunction with their science class, and the students learned that if a paper mache project is not made with enough layers, it will collapse and/or tear. Once the students were done covering their molds, we placed them on the table to dry until next class period.
For the fourth graders, water balloons were used as the bowl mold. Some students formed them into tall vases and some kept theirs as shorter bowls. The newspaper dipped in wheat paste glue was wrapped around the balloons, just as we had made the planets earlier in the year. Once they had enough newspaper layers and had wiped off the excess glue, we placed them onto a table to dry until the the next class. In their next class period, they were allowed to pick their paint colors and trim their bowls as they liked. They really turned out beautifully!
The next week with the fifth graders, the masks were removed from the face molds. A couple of masks would not come off of the molds (I think some of the older ones were sticky with previous years' glue) so I let those few students keep the mask attached to the mold. I had extras, so was able to part with a few of the molds. The students were allowed to pick their own paint colors and design their masks. We used tempera paints to color them and various sized paint brushes. Most students were telling me these were getting hung up in their bedrooms some were giving them as birthday presents this summer to friends or family. They all were extremely happy to have finally made the masks that they had looked forward to for so long! The fourth graders are very excited to make their own masks next year.