Make: A Paper Bag Bear Den for Small World Play

Turn a grocery bag into a painted paper bag bear den or cozy miniature cave for hibernating wildlife and other small-world play setups with this easy DIY.

Our paper bag bear den sitting in a woodland small world play setup

Autumn is turning to winter here in our neck of the woods, and the urge to curl up and hibernate is back with a vengeance! The long, dark evenings are a good excuse to curl up with a blanket and whip up some fresh tabletop activities and play accessories.

Play the preview video below for a peek at our play setup…

Inspired by the season (and some local bear sightings) we’re exploring the lovely scenery of Canada this week, with a trip to the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, hoping to spot the elusive Kermode bear.

The second leg of our journey takes us to the frozen coasts of Northern Manitoba for a visit to the Polar Bear capital of the world.

Our paper bag bear cave sitting in an arctic small world play setup with two handmade clay bears

I should be clear right off the bat that this specific bear cave was made for durability and LOTS of play usage over time – it’s designed to be tough.

If you’re looking for the 30-second process, you can absolutely make a fantastic cave from a paper bag just by crunching it into a ball, opening it back up, and laying it on its side next to other play supplies. There is a lot of magic in that kind of simple little den, and as long as you’re not interested in a more permanent play accessory, it MORE than gets the job done.

Our paper bag bear den sitting in an arctic small world play setup with two handmade clay bears

Our rock-like paper bag cave makes the perfect bear den (and holds up to bears inside, bears on top, bears all over!). Using a doubled-over thick grocery bag, as well as a simple stiffening agent makes this bear den incredibly sturdy so kids can play with it over and over.

For another woodland kids’ craft, use a shoebox and nature supplies to make a miniature hibernaculum, or build a tabletop winter sensory garden.

To make your own paper bag bear den you’ll need:

Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains Woodpeckers Crafts, Etsy, Blick Art Materials, and/or Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates, we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*

BASIC SUPPLIES:

  • A Paper bag
  • Scissors
  • Craft glue or a glue gun
  • A Foam brush or paintbrush
  • Mod Podge

OPTIONAL SUPPLIES:

  • Tempera or acrylic paint and a foam brush or sponge

FOR THE CLAY BEARS:

  • Polymer clay (I used this kind) or air-dry clay (like this)
  • Tempera/acrylic paint or gesso (optional)

How to Make Miniature Paper Bag Bear Dens – DIY Instructions:

  1. Cut apart a paper bag and glue the two halves together

    Cut open your paper bag, trim off the bottom and any handles, and spread it open – printed side up. Brush with glue (I used school glue and brushed it to the edges with a foam brush).
    The process of making a paper bag bear den craft for kids

  2. Fold the bag in half

    Fold the bag in half and give the glue about 5 minutes to set before moving on to step 3.
    The process of making a paper bag bear den craft for kids

  3. Scrunch and soften your paper bag

    Gently roll, twist, and scrunch the paper bag to soften it. This gives it a great rocky cave-like appearance but also makes it easier to shape.

    The process of making a paper bag bear den craft for kids

  4. Form around a bowl to shape

    You can use a small to medium-sized bowl as a form for your cave. Mold your paper bag around the sides of the bowl, folding as needed (a bit like wrapping an awkward present).
    The process of making a paper bag bear den craft for kids

  5. Glue for stability (optional)

    Take your shaped paper bag off of the bowl and use a hot glue gun to glue the folded sides in place.
    The process of making a paper bag bear den craft for kids

  6. Finish with Mod Podge to stiffen

    To help your cave keep its shape, brush the top with a coat of Mod Podge or clear school glue. Once dry to the touch (typically after 10 minutes, but you can use a hairdryer to speed it up) flip it over, and do a quick brush of Mod Podge on the inside as well.The process of making a paper bag bear den craft for kids

  7. Paint the miniature cave (optional)

    The brown paper bag is a fine color for a bear den, so you can skip painting, OR try adding some extra color and texture as we did.

    Brush or sponge paint onto your cave then let dry. We brushed on a layer of dark grey acrylic paint, then dapped a lighter gray over top with a sponge.

  8. Make your own set of clay bears! (optional)

    You may have a set of miniature toy bears or wooden bears you play with, but for a *bonus* art activity, you can try sculpting your own set of bears.
    Our paper bag bear cave sitting in an arctic small world play setup with two handmade clay bears
    These two chonky bears were made with polymer clay and baked (only because I had some I wanted to use up). You could use air-dry clay or modeling clay instead, it will just take a bit longer to dry.

    Whatever clay you use, you can finish by painting with watercolors or acrylic paints. Our bears actually came out of the oven with some cool color markings, so I opted to skip any paint and enjoy the lovely natural color.

  9. Build a miniature bear habitat

    Half the fun of any small world is putting it together, right? A combination of miniature pine trees, bottlebrush trees, and natural materials from the backyard gave us the exact autumn and winter landscapes we were looking for.
    Our paper bag bear den sitting in a woodland small world play setup with two handmade clay bears

Like stumbling upon a magical corner of an enchanted fairy forest, aren’t they?

Beyond bear play, this mini cave would make a great accessory for play with our handmade pixie peg dolls, the perfect lair for a sleepy dragon, or a forest gnome hideaway.

Our paper bag bear cave sitting in an arctic small world play setup with two handmade clay bears

Using your miniature caves for learning and play

  • Use your paper bag cave to discuss hibernation. Did you know some bears (polar bears for example) don’t hibernate over winter? They DO have dens, but don’t have a need to hibernate due to the way they’ve evolved. You can use your dens to discuss which bears hibernate, when they head in and how they know it’s time to wake up for spring. Explore the spaces bears use for dens, and how they stay warm all winter. And there’s no need to stick to bears! Maybe you’ve made a paper bag fox den, or winter home for wolves (two more animals that have adapted to winter and don’t need to hibernate).
  • Make a life-sized bear den. Once you’ve finished building your cave small worlds, make life-sized bear dens with a big cardboard box (here’s a good example) or blankets and pillows like this cool under-the-table bear lair.
Our paper bag bear den sitting in a woodland small world play setup with two handmade clay bears

Picture books to pair with bear hibernation play

This mini bear cave is a wonderful prop for “bookish play” and pairs well with any of these lovely picture books about the hibernation habits of bears…

Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains Woodpeckers Crafts, Etsy, Blick Art Materials, and/or Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates, we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*

Our paper bag bear den sitting in a woodland small world play setup with two handmade clay bears

For more creative ways to recycle paper bags into creative kids’ projects, check out our adorable stuffed paper bag acorns, or drop by the tutorial for paper bag mushrooms.


*A note about affiliate links: We strive to use simple, earth-friendly supplies that can be purchased locally whenever we can, but sometimes we find the best universally available options, a rare eco-friendly find, or a niche product only available on Blick Art Materials, Amazon, Etsy, or Woodpeckers Crafts. When included in our supply list, these products are affiliate links, and if you click through to make a purchase we receive a small commission that helps us re-order these supplies!

Amanda Eldridge
Amanda Eldridge

With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.

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