Hands-on History: Make an Upcycled Cardboard Model Ship

Upcycled Cardboard Model Ship

Upcycled Cardboard Model Ship

By now, y’all probably know that we’re a homeschooling family, and as a homeschooler AND a crafter, hands-on projects are very important to me. I believe that there’s a kind of knowledge that you get only when you’re wrist-deep in the guts of a subject, not just watching it and scribbling about it from the edges. It’s the difference, to me, between studying a subject and living it.

So when the kids and I undertook a short unit on Christopher Columbus, we read about him and wrote about him, we discussed the repercussions of his actions, we visited life-sized recreations of the Nina and Pinta, we drew a giant chalk Atlantic Ocean on the driveway and marked the ships’ sailing route, we had a Columbus Dinner with all foods boat-shaped or ocean-themed (that was just silliness, but it was fun!), and we made these upcycled cardboard model ship recreations of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria.

Dawn Treader image via ikatbag
ikatbag’s Dawn Treader

The spine for this project was the wonderful cardboard model ship template from ikatbag. It’s perfect for every kind of ship from a pirate ship to a Spanish caravel to the Dawn Treader, and I suggest that you check it out for all of your nautical projects. I printed two copies of ikatbag’s template for our own ships, one full-sized copy for the Nina and Pinta, and one copy that was 10% larger for the Santa Maria (the Santa Maria was larger than the other two–there’s your first piece of hands-on information!).

Upcycled Cardboard Model ShipAfter constructing the basic structure of all three ships (both my nine- and eleven-year-olds needed help with this; I held the cardboard, and they wielded the hot glue gun), we had to make some modifications to make the models more accurately depict the Spanish caravel, the type of ship that the Nina and Pinta were. We built the Santa Maria to basically be a larger caravel, even though she was a carrack, because really, the most important part of her story to us at this time was her shipwreck near present-day Haiti (her wreckage was used to build a fort, with some of her crewmen left in charge. Things did not go well at that fort and with those crewmen).

Of course, our models aren’t super accurate caravels, either, as I asked the children to rely on their memories of our visit to the Nina and Pinta replicas to make the modifications. They both remembered the top deck, the cargo hold, and the three masts, so those are what we focused on. Notice that we’ve got a slit in the cardboard where we can put the rudder, but we left it off to make the ships easier to play with.

The masts are large bamboo skewers, and I used an awl to punch through the cardboard, then the sharp end of the skewer to widen the hole. The placement of the masts isn’t accurate, other than the fact that there are three. I cut squares of canvas cloth for each sail, then using a photo reference (thank goodness for Google Image!), the kids and I painted the sails. They glued each sail to another skewer crosspiece (or a toothpick, in the case of that small flag on the middle mast of the Santa Maria), then I glued each crosspiece to the mast. We’d also studied the flags that each ship hoisted, so we could have also included those, but there’s only so far one can go in the name of historical recreation, you know?

Upcycled Cardboard Model Ship

My nine-year-old used black liquid watercolor to paint all three ships black–did you know that the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria weren’t brown? They were all coated in pine tar to make them water resistant, so they were black, like you’d imagine a pirate ship in a movie might look.

Upcycled Cardboard Model Ship
Recognize the deck furniture that the kiddo is sitting on?

The kids are justifiably REALLY proud of our final product–three reasonably realistic, very sturdy ships 100% recognizable as the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. I was pleased to see that they’re large enough that my younger kid can incorporate them into her small toy and dollhouse play, especially since it turns out that Pinkie Pie and Twilight Sparkle LOVE to sail the seven seas!

Photo credit: Dawn Treader image via ikatbag

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