22 Nature Crafts That Will Encourage Kids to Explore the Great Outdoors

watercolor painting leaf art
Photo: Aaron Dyer

Let young crafters take inspiration from their natural surroundings. With a little imagination, flowers, leaves, twigs, and shells can be transformed into works of art.

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watercolor painting leaf art
Aaron Dyer

Take a cue from Mother Nature: As summer's glow fades into crisp orange leaves, the great outdoors gets a seasonal makeover. And with the weather changes come new ideas for kids craft projects. Let young crafters take inspiration from their natural surroundings. With a little imagination, flowers, leaves, twigs, and shells can be transformed into works of art. In keeping with the seasons, summer seashells and sand make for extraordinary ocean dioramas—just add keepsakes from the family trip, like nautical maps and figurines. During autumn, collect leaves and gourds for one-of-a-kind outdoor displays. In the winter, pinecones make charming pint-sized mice and rock crafts are found buried under snow. And by the time spring returns, flowers grown in eggshell pots make a charming garden for little ones to learn about their environment.

Today, kids seem to have even more reasons to stay indoors, as technology continues its speedy evolution and social distancing remains a priority. And while that may make it harder to get them outside, embarking on a nature walk with the whole family is the perfect way to ease back into nature. There's something magical about entering a quiet, covered forest. Plus, if your kids love to draw, the natural sights offer a feast of inspiration. Mid-autumn is the perfect time to plan a nature walk. In most parts of the country, the air is crisp but not too chilly, and the woods are awash in brilliant oranges, reds, and golds.

There's no end to the fun you can have when you engage with the wonders of the natural world around you. Go out, explore, collect, and make!

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Elbow Patches

children's craft station with natural materials
Nico Schinco

For some wholesome, hands-on fun this autumn, create an art station with natural materials. You can order a selection of dried foliage, or send mini naturalists out to gather it ahead of time, and flatten the leaves in books. Then channel an old-school professor and pass out faux-suede elbow patches. They're the ideal canvas for craft-gluing on fall flora in the shapes of butterflies, peacocks, foxes, owls, and other adorable creatures. Even cleverer: turning acorn tops into you-know-whooo's eyes.

Shop Now: PH PandaHall Oval Suede Elbow Patches, 4.3" by 5.5", $10 for 16, amazon.com; Elmer's White Glue, $2.99, staples.com; Gingko Leaves in Yellow, $12 for 25, and Pressed Autumn Leaves, $7 for 40, etsy.com; Assorted Acorn Caps, $5 for 60, newhampshirenature.etsy.com; Fall Japanese-Maple Leaves, $4 for 16, etsy.com.

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Dried Floral and Ribbon Crowns

child wearing craft crown
Nico Schinco

Mini royals can craft their crowns out of ribbons and stemmed foliage—with a little help from their grown-up subjects.

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Leaf Painting

clothespin paintbrushes
Pernille Loof

Nature provides incredible inspiration—and one-of-a-kind supplies. Get your fledgling creatives to gather grasses, leaves, stems, and flowers in your yard, at the park, or at day camp. Then pinch them into clothespins to make uniquely textured paintbrushes. Put out some washable tempera, and let them play out in the fresh air.

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Dyed Seashells


Dying a T-shirt in a bright color with your child is an easy warm-weather activity, but you can also apply this creative practice to other summer essentials, like seashells. After rounding up their favorite shapes and sizes of these oceanside staples, kids can dye them in bright hues to put on display in your home.

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Bookshelf Terrarium


Kids can watch plants grow before their eyes with a homemade terrarium. Cover the bottom of a jar with gravel, and add 1/4 inch of ground charcoal. Mix two parts potting soil, two parts peat, and one part builder's sand; add to jar. Dig small holes for plants, such as sweet flag or Chinese elm. Spray completely with water before putting on lid. The terrarium should retain moisture, so re-watering won't be necessary, but check the soil periodically to be safe.

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Leaf Animals

crafting materials and leaf animal place cards
Aaron Dyer

Young leaf collectors will love this project that creates colorful animals out of flattened leaves. Download and print our forest animal templates. Place each template on a leaf, secure it with tape, and use detail scissors to cut out the animal. (If you're using brittle leaves, reinforce them with layers of tape on the backs before cutting.) Write each child's name on their creation with a paint pen.

Shop Now: Nature Pressed Leaves, from $4, naturespressed.com; Cricut "Peacock" Gel Pen Set, Peacock, $13, michaels.com; Martha Stewart Detail Scissors, $12.49, michaels.com.

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Sun Prints

sun prints hanging against wall
Jennifer Causey

With the power of the sun, kids can make creative prints to frame, hang, or give as gifts. Surrounded by natural beauty, wander the lush woods and rocky beaches in search of little treasures—feathers, pinecones, and ribbons of kelp—for making sun prints, a photography process that uses the sun's rays to produce enchanting negatives and silhouettes.

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Pressed Flowers

flower boxes
Ryan Liebe

Pressed flowers from Mother Nature can enhance a simple box and transform it into a masterpiece to hold your prized possessions. To begin, choose specimens that naturally lie flat, like pansies, and plot your design. Then pick up one at a time, paint a little glue on its spot on the box, replace the flower, and brush it with the glue. Finish with several allover protective coats. As everything dries, visible brushstrokes will vanish.

Shop Now: ArtMinds Unfinished Wooden Box, $6.50, michaels.com; DIY Unfinished Round Wooden Boxes, 4", $17, orientaltrading.com; Suri Urushi One Tier Magewappa Large Oval Bento Box, $39, en.bentoandco.com; Milisten Unfinished Round Wooden Box, 6", $12, amazon.com.

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Nature Walk Bracelets


Make a fashionable wrist cuff with treasures picked up on walks through the woods or on the beach. Cut a piece of wide masking or colored electrical tape to fit around your child's wrist, plus one inch. Arrange and press collected items onto sticky side of tape. With the sticky side up, fold ends under a couple of times. Cover sticky side of bracelet with plastic wrap, and trim excess. With a small hole punch or needle, make one hole through each end; tie a five-inch piece of string through each hole. Tie bracelet around wrist.

Shop Now: Gardner Bender Colored Electrical Tape, $4.11, homedepot.com.

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Eggshell Flowerpots


For young gardeners, use eggshells as pots to start seeds, and coffee-stirrer tags to foretell what will pop up where. Plant seeds according to package instructions, and nestle planters in an egg carton on a sunny windowsill, where they can be watered easily.

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Koala Seashells

shell koalas
Sang An

Kids will love creating these one-of-a-kind seashell koalas out of scallop and clam shells, which you can find year-round in craft stores and some gift shops. Experiment with different combinations to come up with animal shapes before gluing everything into place. We chose small scallop and clam shells for the koalas, and long razor clams decorated with ring-top cowries for the tree. Use small cushions of polymer clay, which is pliable and slightly sticky, to test out various arrangements. For assembly, a tacky, quick-drying glue works best. Build heads and bodies separately. Before joining larger parts, use a brush to glue on small parts (such as beads for eyes) and clay to support creatures while glue dries.

Shop Now: U.S. Assorted Shells, $5, michaels.com; Craft Smart Polymer Clay, $13, michaels.com.

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Ocean Diorama

Gentl & Hyers

These ocean dioramas evoke vivid memories of summer days by the sea. The fish and lighthouse were color-copied from the tins' labels and are at home among the seaside mementos. With this project, kids can re-create their favorite elements of the beach right inside your home.

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Natural Ink

natural ink swatches
Jason Logan

Non-toxic art supplies are just a step into your backyard. Natural materials—leaves, berries, bark, moss—are transformed into rich pigmented colors that are gentle enough for little hands. Encourage the kids to explore outside, gather things, and concoct experiments with what they find.

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Rock Painting

Annie Schlechter

Those smooth stones you collect on nature walks and on strolls along the shore have a lot of life in them—you just need to apply some paint and glue to form alligators, ladybugs, frogs, and more.

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Acorn Dolls

acorn people
Aaron Dyer

When autumn rolls in and we're busy hosting the family feast indoors, these dolls will keep little ones happily occupied. To make them, kids collect a bunch of acorns in a variety of sizes—turn mini acorns into babies and bigger ones into adults. For even more hours of imaginary play, gather leaves, branches, and other backyard materials to make an entire town.

Shop Now: Woodworks Round Wooden Balls, from $1.50, craftparts.com.

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Wind Chimes

person holding shell wind chimes
Laurie Frankel

Whether your children are combing the beach for shells or sea glass, this project makes great use of their treasures. Start by finding two sticks that are about three inches in length, then use cotton string of varying lengths to tie one end around a shell or piece of sea glass and the other end to one of the sticks. Use two same-size pieces of string to connect the sticks and tie a 24-inch string to the top one to hang it up.

Shop Now: Regency Natural Cotton Twine, $5, amazon.com.

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Photo Rocks

Linda Pugliese

Nothing is more treasured than a family picture—unless that picture is printed on shells or smooth surface rocks. This fall, take your favorite summer snapshots and decoupage them onto a few natural surfaces.

Shop Now: Mod Podge Satin, $5, michaels.com; Martha Stewart Crafts Basic Brush Set, $20, michaels.com.

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Natural Tie-Dye

naturally dyed fabrics with sumac
Gentl + Hyers Styling: Pamela Duncan Silver

Avocado pits make pink. Blueberries create violet. Dried marigolds yield yellow. Start a dye garden with the family, and kids can make these natural dyes—beets, spinach, turmeric, and red cabbage create a brilliant range of colors perfect for any project.

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Pinecone Decorations

Kathryn Barnard

When winter has everyone snowed indoors, a bundle of pinecones and woodsy twigs and branches are materials made for a day of crafting. Have the kids pick their favorites and tie them up with festive red string or use their shapes and textures to imprint a cutout of oven-bake clay.

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Colorful Kinetic Sand

DIY colorful kinetic sand

Make the most of a beach trip by collecting sand and turning it into a colorful project. This craft only requires a few other ingredients and supplies you likely already have in your home, such as cornstarch and a mixing bowl. This sensory activity for kids is taken up a notch by adding bright shades to create a memorable and malleable nature-inspired DIY.

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Leaf Candleholders


While out on a walk in the great outdoors, round up fallen leaves and give them new life by adding them as décor on these glass candleholders. To begin, apply spray adhesive to the backs of the leaves. Wrap the leaves around a candleholder, letting the stem of each extend slightly past the base. Cut off any leaf overhang along the bottom of the candleholder. Place the cylinders around the house for a cocktail party, or line them up down the center of a dinner table. Against the candlelight, the leaves look like vibrant flames.

Shop Now: Gorilla Heavy Duty Spray Adhesive, $9.47, amazon.com; Ashland Cube Glass Vase, 5", $12.49, michaels.com.

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Flower Cloche

Aaron Dyer

Kids will love picking out fresh blooms from your garden to put on display. To create this project, place floral clay on the bottom of a flower-pin frog to secure it inside of a small, sturdy cup. Fill the cup three-quarters full of water. Set a glass cloche next to it, so you know how high the blooms will be, then cut flowers and greenery, and stick them onto the pins. To finish, set the cup on a plate and cover it with the cloche. Check the water daily—the display can last about a week.

Shop Now: Ashland Glass Cloche with Metal Base, 12", $16.09, michaels.com; TinaWood Kenzan Ikebana Flower Frog Pin, 1.4", $8.86, amazon.com.

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