Bright Idea Saturday: Church Dollhouse DIY

church dollhouse collage

William does a lot of scripting.

Most of you who have kids with autism know what this means, but for anyone who doesn’t, this essentially means that he obsessively quotes things. My kid can quote the first third of Finding Nemo, and he can do it all day. Doesn’t matter if someone’s trying to talk to him, or if he’s supposed to be eating dinner, or if he needs to get in the van. He’s in it, and he’ll do it ’til it’s done. So, of course, I was delighted when he started scripting the Liturgy. I mean, if it has to be something…right?

But happy as I was, I was unsettled. He can quote it, but what does it mean to him? What’s going on in his head when he paces and chants, “Let us attend; the Holy Things are for the holy?” What he says isn’t always reflective of what he’s thinking.

Maybe he pictures Father Joel with his hands raised. And maybe it’s a snow plow scraping the street.

So, in the end, this was a problem I was determined to solve:

How do I help William connect his scripting to something real, tangible, and meaningful? 

It came to me when I was planning DIY Christmas presents in November. I could design a dollhouse to look like our church. I told my husband and he said, Maura. That’s nuts. Do you know how long that would take?

He’s right, guys. I educate my daughter at home. We have a baby. I drive between 12-16 hours every week just to get William to therapy and home again. And he’s allergic to every major food allergen imaginable, so the “just order a pizza” solution to dinner is *never* an option.

So when we were visiting my crafty parents during Thanksgiving, my mom and I were looking through the zillions of project patterns she’s printed out. One of them was a little piece of cardboard, folded in half, colored with markers to look like a house.


Eureka! I said. And a pretty simple church dollhouse was born.


Well, okay. This is the masterpiece I ended up with. But that’s because my dad is a woodworker and private contractor *exploding* with talent, and has a workshop full of every kind of gadget you could think up. It was his arm I grabbed when I had this idea.

So, I figure, if I didn’t have my dad, I’d’ve been on my own at home with paints and a kitchen table. So I did this again for you. This time, I made it with what I have at my own house: a porch full of cardboard boxes, a foam paintbrush, tempura paint, spray-on clear coat, a printer, and $10 to spend at Hobby Lobby. It looked like this:


So, no workshop? No problem. Here’s what you’ll need to gather from your crafting space:

  • Two identical pieces of cardboard, foam board, or, in a pinch, posterboard (though that version won’t hold up for too long)
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Masking tape
  • Packing or duct tape
  • Spray-on clear coat
  • Printer paper and color printer (to print out icon thumbnails)
  • Mod Podge or rubber cement
  • Sharpie, black or brown
  • Peg people, available at Hobby Lobby for $2.99 (package of 8)
  • Paints in desired colors for people (I used tempura because it’s cheap, but I didn’t know that it’s likely to run if it gets wet. You might choose acrylics, but it’s pricier if you don’t have them already. I’m on the cheap side, but I hated to spend $12 on two colors of paint for a project that was otherwise free.)

1. Start with two pieces of cardboard. I cut off one of the flaps on an Amazon shipping box, and cut that in half. From here on out, the shaping of these pieces will be exact mirror images.


2. Shape the “roof” as desired. I used a ruler to draw my lines first and then made my cuts.


3. Make the doors. The peg people I got at Hobby Lobby are 2.5″ high, so I made the doors to fit:

  • Outer doors: 3″ tall and 2.5″ wide. Keep in mind: the door on one piece will go on the left side, and the door on the other piece will be on the right.
  • Middle door: 3″ tall and 3″ wide when pieces are put together–that is, 1.5″ on each half.



4. Hinge it. Pick up your cardboard pieces and put them together, insides facing each other. Stand the church up on the table on its outer seam; that is, the end you will open, so that the soon-to-be hinged end is facing you.



Place packing tape.




5. Paint. I painted the top half blue to differentiate the ceiling from the iconastasis, so if you want to go that route, use your masking tape and a sheet of paper to tape off what you don’t want painted.


Paint ‘er up!


6. Allow it to dry. It only took mine about 20-25 minutes to dry sufficiently before clear-coating. Important to note: my paint was pretty dark when wet. It dried up much lighter than I thought it would. I liked the effect–more royal than navy.


7. Clear coat it. If you’re using acrylics, this isn’t as necessary. But if your kiddo beats stuff up like mine does, tempura paint, all on its lonesome, is just not going to make it to the end of the weekend. Pull the tape off and spray a thin clear coat over the whole project. Allow about 30 minutes to dry.


8. Search and print some icons. Go to Google Images and search “Orthodox icon thumbnails.” I added specific names to that search when I was looking for certain saints for the iconostasis, such as “St. John the Forerunner” or our parish patron, “St. Stephen.” I printed out a bunch of sheets of this stuff, picked the ones I liked in comparable style and size, and cut them out.


9. Glue down the icons. Using some Mod Podge or rubber cement, paint the backs of the icon thumbnails and stick ‘em.


10. Optional: I also printed out the icons for the 12 Feasts of the Church from this Greek church’s website, cut them out, and lined them up across the top.

11. Outline. After I was confident that all the glue and paint were dry, I took a Sharpie to the icons to make frames for them.


12. Paint up some people. And the people are yours to have fun with. I took one or two definable elements from all the parishioners who are most important to William (like glasses or white hair or a red skirt) and I tried to re-create them. Tips for decorating:

  • Draw designs lightly in pencil first.
  • DO NOT use Sharpies on the peg people. They bleed like crazy (*even* over top of the paint, *even* after it’s dry, *even* if you’ve shot them with a clear coat, and that’s dry…the wood is extremely porous). Use a black gel pen if you’re inclined to outline; they make a nice, clean line and don’t bleed at all. They’re also good to make dots for eyes. Do it with a Sharpie and you can use your peg people for making a stop-frame horror flick.
  • Don’t forget to make one to look like your kiddo!

And ta-da! This would also be good for practicing pretend play with your child, or creating a social story to show what will happen at Sunday Liturgies.

Happy crafting!



4 Comments Add yours

  1. dcombs60 says:

    I see me!! This turned out wonderfully! What a great idea! Does he play with it?


    1. mauraoprisko says:

      Haha, that’s you all right! He does like it. His favorite is the people, since he knows who they are. It takes him a long time to warm up to the toys that make him work, though. 🙂 We’re getting there!


  2. I’ve been wanting to make a little model church for months – thanks for coming up with such a great plan!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. mauraoprisko says:

      Thank you! Glad you stopped by! 🙂


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