Encourage their creativity with a storybook-inspired idea.
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animal house scene
Credit: Ryan Liebe

Get little ones started on a hibernation destination for their animal figurines, and they'll spend the whole winter in a world of their own making. They can forage for materials for this diorama around your place or in the recycling—shoeboxes for the structure, toilet-paper rolls for the chimney, scraps of wrapping paper for the wall coverings—and then let their imaginations run wild finessing the décor. Creature comforts never looked so cute.

To start this project, you will need two same-size shoeboxes or similar-size boxes; we used Recollections Kraft Memory Boxes ($6, michaels.com). plus found objects, preserved moss, and animal figurines, for decorating. Cut scrapbook paper to size of interior box "walls" and "floors"; attach with spray adhesive such as 3M Scotch Spray Mount ($8.49, michaels.com). Mark "windows" on bottom of box; cut out with a craft knife. Hot-glue crisscrossed toothpicks in place to create "panes"; hot-glue a square of waxed paper to box exterior for "glass." Stack boxes lengthwise; hot-glue together to create two stories.

Measure desired size of roof on cardboard; cut out, lightly score at center, and fold. Trace end of toilet-paper roll on roof where you want chimney; cut out circle. Use brown masking tape to adhere roof onto upper shoebox. Measure and cut out a triangular piece of cardboard for the attic back wall. Cut scrapbook paper to size; secure with adhesive. Tape the back wall in place. Insert an empty toilet-paper roll in roof hole; secure with hot glue.

Decorate rooms as desired (we used bottle caps, barbecue skewers, beads, blocks, columns, Creatology wooden spools ($3 for 12, michaels.com) and slats ($3 for 6, michaels.com), tongue depressors, LED candles, aluminum foil, and dollhouse baskets and music stands). Surround diorama with moss, and add animal figurines like Schleich toys—an arctic wolf, white-tailed buck, white-tailed doe, white-tailed fawn, or a quokka (starting from $4, schleich-s.com); for feathered friends, we included a snowy-owl toy ($7, amazon.com) and a single cardinal figurine ($2, becausemydreams.etsy.com).

mini fireplace
mini dinner table
mouse playing the violin
Left: Credit: Ryan Liebe
Center: Credit: Ryan Liebe
Right: Credit: Ryan Liebe

Half-Pint Hearth

The makings of a mantel: two thread spools, a tongue depressor, and craft paint. Top it with birthday-candle tapers (stuck in wooden beads), and "light" a twig fire with an LED votive Ashland LED tea light ($1.99, michaels.com).

Grazing Board

All species are welcome at this balsa-wood-and-spool table, set with a doll-size basket of "fruit" beads and flowers ($3.75, michaels.com). Dinner guests will fawn over the bottle-cap- and-skewer pendant light and scrapbook-paper wall coverings.

Critter Conservatory

A wooden-block chair with a cardboard back and a dollhouse music stand and violin are all a mouse needs to fiddle for his pals. For building small-size furniture, we used Learning Resources Geometric Wooden Shapes ($17 for 12, amazon.com).


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