Inflatables: blowing up the creative mind!

Inflatables: blowing up the creative mind!

Special hat-tip to Brandon Bean, elementary special education teacher from Mulvane Public Schools for the inspiration for this blog post’s title. 

Over the past several years, I’ve had so many requests to share how I use inflatables with kids, from what we could actually create, to how I help them build them. And I’ve never really ever shared them before. So here we go!

I ran across the concept of inflatables back in 2007 from my friend and Yoda-guru, Kevin Honeycutt. He mentioned that I might want to build a room-sized cell with my kids and gave me about 10 minutes worth of instruction over iChat. And he gave me a shopping list. Kind of. And I was off!

The students were so engaged in learning, constructing, and so was I! I wasn’t sure this thing would actually work, but I had a sense of what it was supposed to do and put my trust in my kids’ and my brains to figure it out. And what do you know? It changed our lives. So I’m happy you’re interested too!

What can we build with inflatables? Honestly, you’re only limited by your imagination and time. It could be a cell. Or a biome. Or a lung. Or an underwater sea colony. Or a colony on Mars. Or a time machine. Or a reading room. Or a calm room. Or make it out of black plastic, poke strategic holes in it and it’s a stellarium. Maybe it’s an eyeball. Connect up a bunch of them to illustrate the digestive system. Or build a walk-through heart. See if you can make different shapes and figure the volume. Put a projector on the outside facing the side of the inflatable and project space scenes passing by. It’s really everything you (or better, your kids) could imagine! And they’re pretty darned handy to have, use, and reuse at will. Done working on it? Deflate it, roll it up, and toss it into a closet! Send it home with a kid (but keep the fan).

My suggested shopping list for beginners, for one medium-sized (not room sized) inflatable:

Fits about 6 average adults comfortably.

Best built by 6-8 people

  • 1 roll of 1mil plastic sheeting, found in the paint section of most hardware stores. I like this type.
  • 1 roll of .7mil plastic sheeting.
  • 2 rolls of clear packing tape
  • 2-3 pairs scissors (depending upon size of group working)
  • 1 medium-sized fan (9” high-velocity fan is perfect for this size or a standard box fan)
  1. Begin by fully opening the two sheets of plastic and laying them on top of each other. 
  2. Roll the edges of the 2 sheets together to make a tight seal. Tape that seal shut, running tape along the rolled edge. It’s good to have 2 teams of 3 working on this, starting at opposite sides. Each team will have a tape-puller, a tape-handler, and a roller, working in tandem. This teamwork will ensure that tape isn’t wasted or getting accidentally stuck on the plastic and tearing holes. Also, using 2 teams working in tandem will help move the process along much faster.
  3. Seal the entire perimeter except for about a 1.5 foot section, where you’ll face the fan into the (flat) dome to inflate it, once all the edges are sealed.
  4. Hold the fan to the open space and begin to fill the inflatable into a dome-shape with air. Hold tight!! 
  5. When the dome looks like it’s nearly completely inflated, cut a vertical slit in the side of the dome opposite the fan, cutting perpendicularly across the taped center line, ensuring the slit is large enough to let your largest/widest kid enter. 
  6. MEANWHILE, make a tube of plastic sheeting (can be a trashbag) that will fit around the outside perimeter of fan. Tape it to the fan, making sure not to block the fan’s intake of air. Let the opposite, loose side of the tube lay for now.
  7. Send 2 students, armed with scissors and tape into the inflated dome to work with 2 students on the outside. Together, this team of 4 will seal the hole where you inflated the dome, and cut a hole UNDER the taped center-line, where the outside team will feed the loose side of the fan-tube into the inflated dome. The inside team will ensure the tube is unobstructed and will tape the tube to the INSIDE of the dome, while the outside team will tape the tube to the outside of the dome, ensuring a sealed inflow of air. Turn the fan on occasionally to ensure the inside team doesn’t suffocate!! 
  8. Once the tube is completely sealed, making sure the air intake hole is NOT obstructed and is as wide as the fan in circumference, the inflatable is ready to go!

Students may enter in socked feet to decorate the inside or just chill and enjoy!


  • Some students might be claustrophobic. Let them stick their faces into the doorway to see how expansive it feels and the movement of air on their faces. Encourage them to try but don’t force anyone against their will.
  • If a student begins to panic while inside, it takes 2 seconds to tear the wall open to get them out. It’s ok. 
  • Someone will fart. Or have stinky feet. It’s ok. Just let people get out, give it about 2 minutes to transfer the air out, and it will be ok. Remember, the fan is always blowing. And you don’t need to hold the door closed because homeostasis will naturally happen. 
  • Kids think that once they’re inside, you can’t hear or see them from outside the bubble. But you can. You can learn a LOT from that fact. And it’s safer to monitor than you might initially think, you clever teacher you!

Good luck out there and play hard! 

If you want to know more about supporting PBL in your school and community, let me know! The daily practicalities are precisely the stumbling blocks where new-to-PBL teachers decide that PBL isn’t for them. And with over 12 years of K12 PBL experience, I can help navigate and knock flat those pesky daily hurdles for real change, right now.

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Written by GingerLewman

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