Mobile-Making: An Art Form with New Possibilities for Education

One of the moments I have loved in teaching California history this year is seeing my students make their end-of-the-year mobiles. I could see a unique record of what they learned in their creations. Because of how much I believe in mobile-making, I thought it would behoove me to write an article on the history and benefits of mobile-making in education.

Where does the tradition of mobiles originate?

Mobile and sculptures by Alexander Calder
Finnish Himmeli mobile

The artist Alexander Calder is credited with the modern take and popularity of the mobile as an object of beauty. Truly, his works were beautifully balanced. In Finland, families made (and still make) straw “Himmeli” mobiles that are hung above the dining room table to commemorate holidays and create good luck for planting crops. (The Swedish work himmel means “sky” or “heaven.”)

Modern “Baby Mobile”

No doubt you have seen mobiles in a baby’s crib, intended to both stimulate and soothe little ones to sleep. Indeed, there is something both soothing and other-worldly about object twirling on its own.

Mobiles can also be a bit magical. They are often hung in places that have open space, and because of their dimensionality, they offer a more dynamic display as air currents can pass through them. Due to the fact parts are free standing, they invite a viewer to interact with the physical world. They are different from a book or report that gets closed and stowed away for storage. Check out this great article about the history of mobiles and a testimonial from an artist who creates mobiles. The medium is indeed — uncharted.

Mobiles in Education

One of the main reasons we at Carrier Shell Curriculum include mobiles in both Earth Party! and California Out of the Box curricula — they allow for whole body synthesis; a mobile is assembled object by object. A new item of beauty is created to remember all that a student has learned. A mobile is a series of choices, often times pieces that are already around a home can be utilized. Students can choose how to put the elements together, as well as the coloring materials, strings, and the anchoring body. (It is our hope no new shopping trip will be needed!)

It’s okay to be creative and use other forms of writing. Mobiles with short bursts of text or storyboards in comic format can be just as effective as long-form content.

Not So Formulaic Homeschool Blog (

Subjects such as science, history, and even math lend themselves to exploration through mobiles. History of wars can even be shown through a mobile. (I am about to find that out next year, as my boys L-O-V-E WWII planes!) Also similarities and relationships between life forms can be demonstrated in a mobile. For math, number and geometric relationships can be shown through mobiles.

What educational components are included in mobile-making?

  • Students must reflect and review the material they’ve learned.
  • They must consider how they can translate these reflections into 2D and 3D objects. (“thinking symbolically”)
    • What form would these objects take?
    • What style and color should be used?
    • How will they display these objects?
    • How are the objects related to each other?
  • They make stylistic choices as they gather their materials.
  • They execute the project, making use of gross and fine motor skills, gaining muscle memory as they go.

But, is mobile-making academic?

That depends on your definition of academic. Yes, in the sense of reinforcing learning. No, if academic implies strict adherence to 2D written work. Truthfully, we at Carrier Shell Curriculum agree that writing is important, especially for history and science! However, if a curriculum already includes a strong written component (which Earth Party! and California Out of the Box do), an assemblage/sculpture project can add non-verbal meaning, 3D processing that encouraging creative problem solving, crossing the midline, and real interaction with “deciding to add this, and not that.” These decisions, after being exposed a year packed with so much information are relevant. A mobile is an excellent addition to a curriculum that already includes written work. It is super-helpful to revisit information gained over the course of a year. To allow students to create an object to help them in review is both essential…and beautiful. Mobile making is educational!

For more examples of how to work mobiles into your educational plans, see this article.