In this MFA Playdates at Home, after reading the book Swimmy, we look at a Soprano ocarina in the Museum's collection, which is an instrument in the shape of a fish! We also watch a special performance of a folk song played on an ocarina in the Museum's collection. Then we get step-by-step instructions on how to make our own fish out of clay or playdough.

Swimmy (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1963), written and illustrated by Leo Lionni, is read with permission from Random House LLC.

Make a Fish

smiling clay fish with tail, scales and fins


You will need:

  • Modeling clay, Play-Doh, or homemade playdough—any color combination will work!
  • A pencil or a colored pencil
  • A spoon

Step 1

three balls of clay of different colors and sizes
Separate your clay or playdough into three round balls: one large ball the size of your hand and two smaller ones about half that size.

Step 2

long clay oval made with large ball of brown clay
To make the main body of the fish, flatten the large ball to make a long oval shape. Then make pointed tips at the front and back of your fish.

Step 3

small triangle made of brown clay
With one of the small balls, create a triangular shape. This will be the fish’s tail.

Step 4

two differently sized half-oval shapes made of the same colored clay
Using the last ball, create two half-oval shapes, one bigger than the other. These will be the fins.

Step 5

two half-oval clay shapes attached to large oval clay piece
Attach your tail and fins to the body of your fish! Mold one tip of the triangle onto an end of the oval shape. Place one fin on top of the fish and push the clay or playdough together so it sticks, and then place the other fin on top of the fish body, below the other fin.

Step 6

scales etched into clay fish body
Use a spoon to create circle-like patterns on the fish’s body and tail. These are the fish’s scales!

Step 7

holes made onto clay fish body with pencil
Next, use the flat end of a pencil or colored pencil to place eight holes on the body of the fish: four near the top, and four near the bottom.

Step 8

eye and smile etched into clay fish body
Use the spoon to give your fish a mouth. Is it smiling? Lastly, use the end of your pencil to give your fish an eye. Now your fish is complete!

Art Activity Instructions

Download and print out the instructions to follow along at home.