Hot air balloons make a great classroom theme. Lighter than air flight seemed a lot more plausible than heavier-than-air flight and was more popular for a long time. Even now, balloon travel is in many ways more exciting than airplane travel. Enjoy a hot air balloon theme as a symbol of optimism, or bring in history and science and literature for a well-rounded classroom theme.
There is a new Carson Dellosa Hot Air Balloons Bulletin Board Set suited to student names, goals, best work, benchmarks, and so forth. Write names on the band across each balloon and add a face cut from a school photo to the basket.
The white panel for the giant balloon can hold your name, “Mr. Baxter Balloonists,” your class slogan, team name, etc.
Get a similar look by having students decorate paper plates, adding a basket cut from paper.
Choose an uplifting slogan:
- Rising to New Heights
- Here We Soar
- Flying High
- Soaring Above the Crowd
- Up, Up, and Away
Making hot air balloons from papier mache is a classic craft for this theme, and hanging the balloons from the ceiling jazzes up your classroom enormously. Step by step instructions with photos can be found at First Palette. Martha Stewart does, too. As long as you cover balloons with papier mache and tie a paper cup below them for baskets, you can’t go wrong.
If that sounds like too much trouble, print out Crayola’s Hot Air Balloon Mobile coloring sheet and create bright mobiles to hang from the ceiling. There is also a hot air balloon printout in a page of remarkable paper craft designs featuring Santa Claus. This model, from the overachievers at Bildrums Klippark, is great for older students. Also, you should just go over there and marvel a little if you have time.
For older students, use old-style light bulbs (burnt-out ones are fine, or make this a chance to switch out for more energy-saving modern ones). They’re the perfect shape, and you can paint them. Party nut cups are the perfect size for a basket, and you can tie them on or wire them on with florist’s wire.
Another classic hot air balloon experience is to create a hot air balloon with a plastic bag (the long narrow ones from the dry cleaner’s work best) and a hair dryer or hot air popcorn popper. We used the Hot Air Balloon from Smithsonian Adventures, which is admittedly snazzier, but it’s the same principle. If you fill something light with hot air, it will go up in the air. The UFO solar balloon kit takes this a step further by using black plastic to give the sun an opportunity to heat the air enough to cause the balloon to rise without hair dryers.
Give yourself plenty of time for trial, error, and tweaking your hot air balloon to get more lift. If your students are ready for algebra, NASA has some nice equations that can help.
Learn about hot air balloons:
- How they work
- How they work, with lots more bells and whistles, at PBS
- How they were invented
- How to make them in class, in glorious detail
- How to set up a lab (Frankly, this is an unattractive page and you have to scroll down through a bunch of ads to reach the useful part, but I haven’t found a better page with all the calculations in one place yet. If you know of one, please mention it in the comments — thanks!)
- How they were used in the Civil War
- How they were used in other conflicts
- How to draw them
Books for all ages:
- Curious George and the Hot Air Balloon
- The Travels of Babar
- Hot-Air Henry includes an intrepid cat and some lyrical language.
- The Big Balloon Race is an easy reader about a balloon race. My personal favorite balloon race book is The Great Round-the-world Balloon Race by Sue Scullard, but it’s out of print. Check with your library, though.
- The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois was one of my childhood favorites, and I still love it. Tie it in with rainforest studies, natural disasters, creativity, or invention. Show your class a flash movie overview of the book to whet their appetities, or after you’ve read it, to structure discussion.
- Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride (Caldecott Honor Book) from Marjorie Priceman, who also brought you How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World.
- How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World includes a hot air balloon as well as other means of travel.
- Lighter Than Air: An Illustrated History of the Development of Hot-Air Balloons and Airships is a serious yet readable account with lots of illustrations.
- The Wizard of Oz includes a hot air balloon, along with many other interesting things.
- Around the World in 80 Days, another classic, includes a balloon among other forms of transportation.