Totally Cool Toys

By kathy murphy, April 15, 2007

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Product Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

Five 50 minute class periods


Today, there are so many types of careers for people to choose from; including those where people design or create something that is functional or decorative in nature.  This project will involve designing a toy that is both functional and fun to look at for the “Totally Cool Toy Company.” Students will imagine that they have just been hired as a designer at the Totally Cool Toy Company to design a very cool toy using a variety of materials in whatever way they think will create the most interesting toy.

National Standards


Students will:
  • learn about various design-related careers
  • learn about toys designed long ago that are now considered folk art
  • look at and analyze popular toys and discuss the artistic decisions made in creating them
  • compare the ways in which “Folk Art” toys are similar to and different from toys today
  • create a “Totally Cool Toy” that has a usable function such as telling time, storing money, or some other function
  • write in a journal about what they will create and sketch, and what it will look like when finished
  • read from their journal and show their sketches to the class to “sell” their newly created product
  • create a prototype of their toy out of various recycled and new materials


  • antique wind-up toys
  • sampling of modern toys, for example: Toy Story characters such as Buzz Lightyear, and other toys that are more high-tech and may need batteries to function
  • Burda, Cindy. Wind Toys that Spin, Sing, Whirl and Twirl
  • Hooke, Richard. Blowing in the Wind: How to Make Your Own Wind Powered Folk Art Figures
  • Pierce, Sharon. Making Old-Time Folk Toys


  • Paper Mache
  • Claycrete
  • cigar boxes
  • paper tubes
  • cardboard cones
  • plastic eggs
  • styrofoam balls and shapes
  • tape
  • glue
  • hot glue and glue gun
  • scissors
  • paint (shiny Jazz tempera works great)
  • brushes
  • yarn
  • ribbons
  • trims
  • fuzz balls
  • permanent black Sharpies


career, functional, decorative, designer, folk art, client, pull toys, wooden, modern, marketing, form, function


Class 1
  • Ask the students what they think a design-related career is. Can they think of different careers where design is an important element of that career? List the stated careers on the board. If students do not mention toy designer, then the teacher should mention it and point out that designers have been designing toys for centuries.
  • Show examples of antique and folk art toys to the class. Also show examples of toys made currently.
  • Have the students answer the following questions: What is the difference between those toys and the toys of today? What are the similarities (similar functions, goals, etc.)? How has technology changed the way designers design toys? How are the materials that toys are made with now different from the toys of the old days? What about the functions of toys; how have they changed?
  • Instruct the students that they have been hired by the “Totally Cool Toy Company” to design a toy that is both interesting to look at and functional in some way.
  • Explain that they will create an armature (skeleton) made from recycled materials and they can create paper mâché pieces to accompany it.
  • Each student should brainstorm in their journal what type of toy they would like to create and what function it would have. If necessary, they can research various toys and materials on the Internet.  Remind them to focus just as much on the function, as the form. This idea should be repeated throughout the project, helping to keep the students focused on their final goal—creating something for their client, the “Totally Cool Toy Company.”
  • Once students have decided on what type of toy they would like to create and completed their sketches, they may take turns gathering the materials (both recycled and new materials) they would like to use (cans, Styrofoam scraps, cardboard cones, plastic eggs, cigar boxes, egg cartons, plastic containers of many sizes, etc.). They will use masking tape to attach these materials together to “build” their toy. Write name with a sharpie on the bottom.
Class 2
  • Today students will begin working with paper mâché. Demonstrate the technique of using the “goop” with paper (have the students use school-grade paper towels for this) to cover and attach the parts the students have taped together. Encourage the students to work fast and to try to cover everything today.
  Class 3
  • Continue to work with paper mâché. Have claycrete (a paper pulp clay when mixed with water) available for students to use however they wish. They can use it to create raised parts and add more 3-D features. Remind students to refer back to their sketches and original ideas in order remain focused on the function of their toy.
Class 4
  • Students begin painting today. Instruct students to start at the top of their project and paint the entire thing with one color and then after it’s dry they can use other colors to add layers and details. Remind them to wait until areas are completely dry before painting details so that the colors don’t run together.
  Class 5
  • Students may be at different stages in the finishing of the project. Some that are finished painting may want to help a friend in need! Have a “hot glue station” where students can glue any additional details or features onto their toy.
  • Closure: Have students fill out the “Totally Cool Toy Company” worksheet (attached) and answer the questions.
  • Hold a class presentation where each student shares his or her toy and reads the answers from the “Totally Cool Toy Company” worksheet to the class. This could be videotaped so the students can see themselves giving a presentation and marketing their toy. The students should reflect on what is shared. Ask them what they learned about the difference between the toys they created (and the toys they play with) and the ones they studied from the past. What are some of the similarities they noticed?


Did the student participate actively and stay on task? Did the student express an understanding of the design and function of toys? Did the student use their journal to record their reflections?

Enrichment Extension Activities

Students could create a marketing package for the product they have created. It might include a flyer with directions for use and the type of batteries needed, as well as a poster advertising the toy and promoting its great functions. This could be created on the computer after taking a digital photo of the toy and using Photoshop to enhance and add words to the poster.

Teacher Reflection

This was a very successful lesson that the students really enjoyed. I stressed adding details such as outlining with black or adding puff balls or trims that made the projects more colorful and interesting.
The end products were very fun and the best part was when the students read the name and description of their toy to the other students.

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