Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Some teddy bears are going to be very happy!

Making teddy bear chairs is an annual 2nd grade project in my art room, and the kids really look forward to it. In the spring, the 2nd grade classes go on a fun field trip to the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory, crossing Lake Champlain via ferry on the return trip. Many of the kids make Build-a-Bears while at the factory, and the bears will all have chairs to sit on when they get to their new homes with their 2nd grade companions.

This is a ridiculously easy project, with 100% success. I send a letter home asking for cardboard rolls from toilet paper and tin foil, paper towels, plastic wrap, etc., and I end up with way more than I will need. Even now, every day I find another bag of cardboard rolls by my door, which is so funny since the chairs are all built and mostly painted!!

Meanwhile, way back in the fall, when I received my new supplies, I cut up the shipping cartons into 7" squares, two for each 2nd grader. I'm sure other sizes would work, but this size seems "just right" to me. I have an old "workhorse" paper cutter that makes easy work of cutting up the cardboard.

To build the chairs, we do it in little steps over a period of three art classes, while working on other projects. For the first session, each child is given a cardboard square, and their name and class is written on it in the middle. One table is set up with newspapers on it, and a dish of Elmer's Glue-All. My big box full of cardboard rolls is on the floor. Two at a time, I call kids to put the legs on their chair. They go to the box, pick out 4 toilet paper rolls and check to make sure they are matching in length. Then they dip them in the glue, slosh them around, and stick one on each corner of the square, with their name in the middle. This year the kids then carried them to the hallway where we lined them up to dry, legs up, until the end of the day. In a class of 23 kids, everyone got them done in one class and also worked on another project. I glued legs on for anyone who was absent.

In the next art class, the chairs were turned right side up, and two posts (paper towel-size rolls) are glued on adjacent corners, using the same process. These become the supports for the back of the chair.

In the 3rd art class, the chairs are placed on their backs. Each child gets another cardboard square, and lays them on the posts marking the top of the square on each post with a pencil. The posts are painted with Elmer's Glue-All up to the mark, and the backs are placed onto the wet glue. The chairs dry laying on their backs. Again, this is done a couple of kids at a time while the another project is ongoing.

Finally, in the 4th class, the kids begin to paint. Some years I've used tempera, but others, like this year, I use school acrylics, and I think it gives the best results. I mix up a ton of colors in plastic souffle cups with covers, and place them all on the round table in the center of the room. Kids pick one color at a time to use, and are pretty well-trained in washing brushes. (Tables are newspaper covered, and brushes are wiped on the paper, washed, and wiped again before being dipped in a new color.) Most colors were pre-mixed by me with a little white to give them better coverage, and no black was put out to use until the 2nd class period for painting (most kids were done painting in 2 sessions). Some years, time permitting, I've had the kids paint a coating of an acrylic gloss varnish over the chair. It looks nice but is time-consuming. Also, some years I've used slats instead of squares for the back, and they look very cute too.

Here's the back of a chair, and a chair in use! This chair is actually blue and purple, not blue on blue, but I cannot seem to get the photo to show the true color.

By the way, the original inspiration for these chairs was in an article I saw many many years ago in School Arts magazine. If you like making the chairs and have lots of cardboard and cardboard tubes, and have time to spare, or maybe an after-school group, you could get really creative and make little tables or desks to go with the chairs! What fun!!


  1. What a wonderful Project - I'm sure they will be treasured for years to come! Thanks for all the details of your process as well...

  2. Love it! Thanks for sharing the details. Our kindergartners do a teddy bear theme every fall and have a teddy bear picnic, so this would be perfect. Thanks!

  3. Thanks for the detailed directions. I thought about doing something like these this year (after reading about them last year on your blog) but didn't get around to it. Maybe next year:)) I just love all the great colors and designs. All those stripes and dots are so whimsical!!

  4. Awwww, these are wonderful! We'll see if I get this lesson squeezed in this year......2 week spring break started today & boy does that mean we're near the end. May is just around the corner.
    Are you really retiring this year? You'll still blog right?!!!! I need my Phyl fix, you always take the time to not only post pics, but give all the details in your so pleasant Phyl-way:)
    P.S. Did the Cats on flying carpets lesson. It was hit! Hope to post pics soon.

  5. I love your Teddy bear chairs I started doing them after seeing them on your blog about three years ago. You're right the kids, of all ages, love them!
    PS I wish I could think of something to help you with the paper. I'll sleep on it. No more falling! You're in the final stretch!

    1. I'm just such a klutz, Janis. But I'm pretty durable, I guess - I survive all my bumps and bruises.

  6. Those look great, what a great idea and a lot cheaper than a real one as some teddy bear chairs are more than adult chairs!

  7. Tiy have a lovely blog, I have really enjoyed reading it. My cat, now gone:( Decided once he was going to bring in a live chipmunk!!!! At least I can say he didn't get the job done, caught him just in time! LOL He just looked at me like "what is wrong with you?? We could have such fun".
    teddy bear

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