Family Project: How to Make a Tropical Island

Here’s a fun family project on how to make a tropical island. My seven-year-old son Jake came up with this idea and I think it’s a great one. In this family-oriented tutorial, learn how to make a tropical island out of polymer clay, a great project for parents to do with their children.

My seven-year-old son Jake came to me with a great idea a few weeks ago. His idea was to make a polymer clay tropical island that fits into a plastic Rubbermaid tub. I quickly agreed and started planning exactly how we’d accomplish this. This is Jake’s first time working with polymer clay and he really wanted to try it out. The following week, I came up with a plan and we were ready to go. Originally, Jake wanted the islands to included humans and animals. He didn’t understand how pressed for space we were or how much clay it takes to do it. Once we got to work, he quickly understood what I was talking about and had a better idea of what it takes to work with an area with limited scale.

All in all, I’m really happy with the way the island came out. While I wasn’t able to add humans I did sneak in a blue whale in the ocean. The island consists of water, a land mass, two separate beachfront, a small mountain made of rocks, and trees as vegetation. The idea of making a volcano also came to mind but Jake wanted a small village with some houses. We didn’t have room for both so we went with the small village. There’s even a small campfire in front of it.

Family project

I suggest the following tutorial as a fun and easy project for the entire family. Just remember these safety tips. First, polymer clay is always baked to cure, don’t allow children near the oven. Also, avoid using sharp objects like knives to cut the clay. There are plastic sculpting tools that are much safer for this. While our polymer clay island looks somewhat like a cake of some sort, it’s not edible. Do not allow children to eat it or put it in their mouths. With all these things in mind, let’s move forward to the project at hand.

Family projects
Jake builds a tropical island from polymer clay

What we needed to make a tropical island from polymer clay

We used craft wire, tinfoil, polymer clay, a ruler and tin snips to cut the craft wire. The colors of polymer clay included aqua blue, yellow, brown, tan, gray, blue, green and a dash of orange for the campfire. For baking, we used a cookie sheet covered by tinfoil. Let’s begin!

Foundation construction

Measure out the craft wire twelve inches by eight and a half to make a rectangle. Make a rectangle out of the craft wire as close to perfect as possible. My son Jake wanted the island to fit inside a Rubbermaid tub he has. You can go larger but remember if you do, you’ll need a lot more clay. While 8.5 x 12 inches may not seem like a lot during planning, believe me, it is. I wouldn’t go too much smaller though. You won’t have any room to work in.

Building a Tropical Island Part 1
Building a Tropical Island Part 2

We completely cover the craft wire rectangle with tinfoil and passed the first test. The rectangle fits perfectly inside the Rubbermaid tub. I thought this would be helpful to offer some scale to your developing idea.

Building a Tropical Island Part 3

Now we take the smaller tinfoil balls and place them in the middle of the rectangle. We’re forming the land mass of the island.

Building a Tropical Island Part 4

Okay, it’s looking good and we’re ready to add clay.

Building a Tropical Island Part 5

We begin the task of creating the base for underneath the island’s foundation. Use any colors for this purpose, no one will see it anyway.

Building a Tropical Island Part 6

Now it’s time to add the ocean water. We used aqua blue to give it a true tropical feel. See how nicely the land mass of the island protrudes from the surface of the water? Next, we take some tan clay and add a beachfront.

Building a Tropical Island Part 7

Next, we add our land mass. It doesn’t have to completely cover the island. We’ll also have clay sand and rocks to cover everything else up.

Building a Tropical Island Part 8

From there, we start adding everything we want on the island. We take gray balls of clay making them into rocks and building them up on the shore with a small mountain slightly inland. Green balls act as the treetops, and we make small brown huts with yellowish thatched rooftops. In the center of the small town, we add a small campfire. At the other end of the island, we created another beachfront. I only wish I left a trail from the village through the woods to the second beach. Too bad the idea came too late. Still, it’s progressing along nicely.

Building a Tropical Island Part 9

Next, it’s time for the minor detailing, arguably the most difficult part of the project. One needs the patience to do this right. I start out with the pipe cleaning tool rubbing it along the two beachfront giving them a sandy texture.

Building a Tropical Island Part 10

At the last moment, I thought of adding a blue whale swimming in the ocean nearby.

Building a Tropical Island Part 11

Next, with a steady hand, I begin detailing the green vegetation making them look like trees.

Building a Tropical Island Part 13
Building a Tropical Island Part 12
Building a Tropical Island Part 14
uilding a Tropical Island Part 15

Baking polymer clay in the oven

Our polymer clay tropical island is ready for baking. I bake it for an hour at 275ºF. Make sure to check the baking time on the label of the polymer clay you use specifically. Baking time and temperatures may vary of different brands. Keep kids back away from the oven so they don’t get burned. Remove the cookie sheet with oven mitts because it is hot.

Building a Tropical Island Part 16
Building a Tropical Island Part 17

Allow an hour or two to cool before removing the island from the cookie sheet.

Building a Tropical Island Part 18
Building a Tropical Island Part 19

Our tropical island has cooled down and is ready. Not bad and we had a lot of fun doing it. It’s pretty easy and a great family project!

Building a Tropical Island Part 20
Building a Tropical Island Part 21


This epic project took about four hours to complete. While we did it straight through, you can definitely break work sessions up as much as you need to. My son proudly displays his polymer clay tropical island on a stand in his room. Doing such projects with children create memories which last a lifetime. Kids never forget that kind of stuff. Just take your time and remember that children must never have access to the oven or sharp sculpting tools. Also, don’t skip over the wire skeleton and tinfoil which acts as the project’s foundation. Without it, the project will surely crumble.

Family Project: How to Make a Tropical Island

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