14 Nature Crafts That Will Encourage Kids to Explore the Great Outdoors
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.
Kids today seem to have even more reasons to stay indoors, as technology continues its speedy evolution. That may make it harder to get them outside, but the contrast only heightens the experience once they're in nature. To start, embark on a nature walk with the whole family: 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!
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.
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.
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, starting from $1.75 for 10, naturespressed.com. Prismacolor Premier Single Fine-Tippoint Pen, in Metallic Silver Fine, $7, michaels.com. Martha Stewart Detail Scissors, $12.49, michaels.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, starting from $1.50 for 10, craftparts.com.
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.
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.