Dogs, giraffes, monkeys and just about any animal imaginable have invaded a second-floor classroom at Archway Classical Academy Lincoln.
Once a week, a handful of students at the K-5 charter campus gather for the Balloon Animal Club. The Great Hearts School sits on the border of Chandler and Gilbert.
“I’m learning how to make new things every week,” said 10-year-old Nic Barrie of Gilbert, who was blowing up a red balloon with a hand pump. “I’ve made swans, hats, bunnies, tigers, ladybugs and turtles. I like ladybugs because you can wear it as a bracelet.”
The club, however, is more than just learning how to make balloon sculptures and having fun, according to teacher Laura Hall, who introduced it to the school this semester.
“Balloons can be fragile and fingerly and so they have to develop patience to work with it,” she said.
Besides developing patience and perseverance, the students improve their fine motor skills by tying the balloons and twisting them into various shapes, according to Hall, a Mesa resident in her first-semester teaching at the school.
The importance of teaching children fine motor skills helps with things such as writing with paper and pencil, which is heavily emphasized at the traditional school, Hall said.
And, the club provides a balance for students in they can have fun and make friends, she added.
“The Great Hearts’ academy schedule is a pretty rigorous academic load,” Hall noted.
Hall wanted to form the fun club after she reviewed the school’s offerings, most were focused on academic or sports. She pitched the idea of making balloon animals because she already had acquired the skill while in high school.
“There was a member from my church who knew how to twist balloon animals and I asked him to teach me,” she recalled.
“I spent $100 for a couple days of lessons and after I connected with restaurants,” Hall added. “They didn’t pay me and I didn’t pay them. I worked for tips and could as a high school student make $100 a night in tips.”
She banked all her earnings, which along with scholarships helped cover room and board and books at Brigham Young University.
“I avoided taking out loans in college,” she said. “It turned out to be a great investment.”
When students join the club, they receive a tote bag containing a hand pump and a bag of balloons.
The first club meeting is spent teaching students how to blow up and tie a knot in a balloon.
“The first animal I teach them is a dog, which is a basic shape,” Hall said. “You can adjust the proportions and make a number of animals.”
From the basic dog, the students can advance to more elaborate creations such as a fish on a fishing pole, a dog with a leash and a monkey climbing a tree with bananas – anything their imaginations take them.
Dyuthi Raman, 10, is already a pro who can twist a purple balloon into a dog in about two minutes.
“I thought it would be fun to make things,” the Gilbert resident said for joining the club.
And, she said she has learned tenacity.
“If it pops, you still have to try and make it again,” she said of a balloon. “You can’t stop.”
The 5th-grader liked twisting balloons into turtles because they were cute and found horses were the hardest to make.
And 8-year-old Harry Zhong prefers making random shapes rather than animals with the balloons while 9-year-old Samantha Morris of Chandler liked to make swords and animals such as tigers, horses, cats and dogs.
Hall said the students enjoy the club so much they willingly practice balloon twisting at home such as Kate Clark, a 10-year-old Gilbert resident.
“It’s really fun,” the 5th-grader said. “At home I want to keep doing it. I (even) ordered a balloon-animal kit from Amazon.”
Kate said she is so good with making balloon animals for her younger sister Agnes, and she’ll be making them at Agnes’ birthday party when she turns 8 in July.
Hall said there were just eight students in the club now but it looked promising there’ll be quite a bit more next semester.
“It looks like a couple dozen for next semester,” she said. “It’s growing quite a bit. It advertises itself. The kids love to hand out their balloons to their friends and spread the love, so it kind of spread by word of mouth.”
She said she hoped the club spread to other Great Hearts campuses.
“There are some balloon artists that are incredible and specializes in little shapes,” she said. “I’m more of a basic-balloon artist but it’s enough for kids to have fun.”