Friday, March 23, 2012

1st Grade Balloons

It may not jump right out and grab you as such, but this was my 1st grade Kansas Day lesson! We learned that Kansas is the nation's leading producer of helium. In the book we read, there were paintings of beautiful passenger balloons, which were the inspiration. 
I had the project all planned out thinking of them as "hot air balloons"... until I realized that hot air balloons float because of the heat, not because of helium. I double checked the pictures in the book, and after doing a little research, found that helium is still sometimes used in passenger balloons, just like hot air.  When introducing the lesson, we talked about what makes balloons float. Some of the 1st graders knew that helium makes party balloons float, but none of them could guess that helium comes out of the ground. (Here's an interesting article about helium) I showed pictures of hot air balloons, because as far as I can tell passenger balloons pretty much look the same, and we discussed how both hot air and helium float because they are lighter than regular air.

The rest of the first class period was spent painting the sky for the background. I don't know about your students, but mine are always asking me how to make a sunset. We reviewed warm colors on the color wheel, then I introduced the concept of 
Analogous colors are "neighbors". I told the students that colors close to each other on the color wheel blend well together. Each table had yellow, orange, red, and purple paint. We applied the paint on 9x12 inch paper in that order. I did have the students follow along with me on this part to make sure they got their colors in the right order. Not because I wanted little clones, because I wanted them to see how the colors blended and understand analogous. Since we started with yellow, the lightest color of the day, I just asked the students to try to use all the paint on their brush before moving on to the next color. They didn't need to rinse until before they applied purple. After purple, the brushes were rinsed again so they could go back and dab on clouds with yellow paint.
In the 2nd class period, the students "painted" with tissue paper on a 6x9 inch piece of paper. I tested brushing water over the bleeding tissue paper then removing it, but I prefer the more saturated colors from sealing the tissue pieces to the paper with watered down glue. I let the students use whatever tissue colors they wanted, but we did talk about how warm colors would blend in more and cool colors would stand out from the background. I had cut stacks of tissue paper into 1 inch (ish) squares and separated them into tubs by warm and cool. This took quite a bit of upkeep as by the end of almost every one of my 7 first grade classes, the extras were all thrown together instead of kept separate. I got some early finishers to help sort the colors again but it was still kind of a big mess. The only bad part about cutting the tissue with the paper cutter like I did, is that the layers tend to stick together. It is really important to only apply one layer at a time in order to get a good seal and a smooth surface on the paper.

The 3rd class was spent assembling everything. We looked at pictures of passenger balloons and the students described the shape. I described the shape as an ellipse that tapers but a student said "like a lightbulb" and that was a better example. The balloon shape was drawn on the back of the fused tissue paper sheet and then cut out. (I had the students put the scraps in a box, these papers were too cool and colorful to throw away!) I showed how lines could be used to show sections on the balloons and the students added lines to theirs with black crayon. At the end of the 2nd class, students used stamps (made from wrapping yarn around cardboard pieces) to add texture with brown paint to tan tagboard. The textured paper was cut into smaller shapes for the basket. I asked the students to count to 19, or some other random number, when gluing their papers to make sure they stuck. More lines were added to hang the baskets from the balloons and if there was any time left, the students drew passengers.
 Look below for more examples or check out our Artsonia gallery!

This student mixed warm and cool.
Cool colors really make this balloon stand out!
A couple classes had to use oil pastels instead of tissue paper to finish in 2 classes instead of 3.
Warm colors make this balloon blend in more. 
I'm really working with this student on taking his time. He gets really excited and could complete any project in about 2 minutes if his Para and I weren't trying to slow him down. I do love the energy in his brush strokes here.


  1. Love how colorful these are!

  2. What a great idea! I love the warm colors in these pieces.

  3. These are stunning. What a great lesson to teach about colors. I will be using this one!

  4. The balloons are so beautiful and a great representation of Kansas. Nice work!

  5. Gorgeous! We have nightly hot air balloon launches here all summer. I will be doing this one!

    (p.s. I always associate hot air balloons with Kansas because of the wizard of oz, not because of your helium production :)

  6. I can't believe I didn't think of the wizard of oz! Oh well, the helium thing's gotta be a social studies/economics tie in, right? :)

  7. These are so beautiful! They look like so much fun!

  8. I love this art project. It is absolutely gorgeous! I can't wait to try this out with my kids this summer, and then with my art students next year.

  9. I'm the Editorial Assistant for Fun Family Crafts and I wanted to let you know that we have featured your beautiful hot air balloon project! You can see it here:

    If you have other kid friendly crafts, we'd love it if you would submit them. If you would like to display a featured button on your site, you can grab one from the right side bar of your post above. Thanks for a wonderful project idea!

  10. This is fantastic! What a creative spin on Analogous colors!

  11. These are fabulous! Great colors and technique. Thanks for sharing. Not to get all science-nit-picky, but if you plan to use balloons as a class on helium, I might advise using helium balloons (like with strings) as imagery, since "hot air" balloons do not use helium, but of course get their lift from normal air rising.

    1. Trust me, I had the same concern and did the research! The book that inspired the idea (One Kansas Farmer) had passenger balloons in the illustration. I double checked before starting and found that helium is/was sometimes used in passenger balloons just not as commonly as hot air. That's probably good since I've read about helium shortages! :)

  12. They are beautiful and thank you for all the instructions. Very generous of you to share them. Hope ours are just as stunning.