The weather is warmer, the kids are getting out of school… Left to their own devices, they’ll zombify in front of their electronics all summer! They need fresh air and exercise and activities to keep them busy while maybe learning something along the way. I’ve collected a bunch of back-to-nature activities here that will get them out of the house, learning about plants, and having fun all in one!
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#1: Flowers and Dragonflies from Sticks and Seeds
I don’t know about where you live, but my lawn, deck, and garden are completely covered in maple tree seeds right now. You know, those whirlygigs aka propeller pods aka helicopters that spin when they drop from the trees. I have so many I’d probably need a shovel to remove them all. Luckily someone found a way to put them to use in a cute craft for just about any age!
I first saw this on Pinterest and thought the dragonflies were adorable. Then when I followed the link, I found the flowers too. The original source was from Family Fun magazine, but I like Filth Wizardry’s interpretation better.
Kids love collecting all this stuff. You might have trouble finding good dried leaves in the springtime (unless you never finished your fall cleanup), but the seed pods and sticks are available now. If you plan ahead you could even press some green leaves to have some nice flat dry ones available to use. Speaking of flat, Filth Wizardry recommends removing the actual fat seed part because it makes it awkward to glue.
You can either use tacky glue or a hot glue gun to assemble (depends on how much patience you have). The seeds and sticks could either be painted before or after assembly. I’d recommend using acrylic paint as was used in the referenced post. You could finish them off with a coat or two of sprayed on sealer (clear acrylic)—either matte, satin, or glossy, depending on your taste—for added durability and protection, but this is optional.
You could also bling them up with some glitter, glass seed beads, or gems for added sparkle! Because, hey, who doesn’t want more sparkle?
Em and I plan to make these right after we finish our fairy cottage. We can use them to decorate on and around the cottage. You could also put them on long sticks or stakes in the garden, or in a pot on your patio. Or bring them inside and put in a potted plant or vase to enjoy year-round!
#2: Fairy Garden
Do a search on Google or Pinterest for “fairy garden” and you will find some of the cutest things you’ve ever seen in your life! Puppies, kittens, fairy gardens. Right up there. I’m always fascinated by things in miniature. Tiny houses, tiny gardens,… so adorable! Last summer Em and I made a broken pot style fairy garden, similar to the one shown. Natureworks has a good tutorial on how to make this. Ours is currently in disarray but will be revamped shortly (I’ll update this with pics when it’s done). This is a very simple one. But they can be very elaborate as well, like the one in this video (shown in 2nd photo).
Just today we were working on a fairy house. And we plan to reuse a large bowl-style planter for a larger fairy garden. We’ve already started planting some of the miniature plants in it, but it isn’t ready yet. I will create a whole separate post for that when it’s done.
These are becoming so popular, some garden centers even have a section for small-scale plants for miniature gardens. Make sure you choose plants that will stay small, not just look small at the nursery. And pick ones appropriate for where it will be. Will it be outside or inside? Sun or shade? What about over the winter?
You can create everything in your fairy world yourself if you are really creative, or you can buy kits to help you out. I love this little garden set I found! I may have to get this for our garden… Keep in mind, if you have little ones, they’ll want to actually play with the fairy garden, and may even want to put little dolls or figurines in it, so you may not want anything too delicate. Em brings out her Lego Friends to play in ours. That’s why our current fairy garden isn’t photo-ready at the moment. 🙂 At least the Lego figures are easy to clean.
If you don’t have a green thumb so you don’t want to try the fairy garden, and you aren’t sure about your engineering abilities to build a fairy house, you can go the simple route and pretend the base of a tree in your yard is the fairy or elf house. You can buy a door and windows, or you can make your own door out of a small piece of wood, popsicle sticks, or even a plastic soda bottle. Get the kids to use their imagination and see what they come up with!
#3: Leaf Rubbings
This is one of those activities you usually think of for fall, but you don’t have to wait for fall to do this! Plus, using fresh leaves gives you more variety. I had pinned this on Pinterest as a reminder, but it was Em who thought of it first. Just the other day, Em, on her own, went outside, found a nice selection of leaves, and brought them back inside and began doing the craft by herself. I walked into the kitchen and found her doing the rubbings. She had the usual maple and elm leaves, but also violets and dandelions and even a spearmint leaf and a strawberry leaf.
This is sooo simple! Just arrange your leaves on your work surface, face down (so the side with the raised veins in facing up), put a piece of light-weight paper over it (copy paper works well), and then rub over the page with a crayon or pencil. This is a great use for those little crayon stubs and that are missing the wrapper. Hold the crayon on its side to get best results.
The other advantage of doing this activity now instead of in the fall? You don’t feel obligated to use fall colors! Instead, go for the bright ones, as you see in the photo above from a how-to post on First Palette.
As an added learning activity, see how many of the leaves you can identify! If you don’t know them all, go online together and google “leaf identification chart” (or weed identification chart) to see what you’ve got!
#4: Leaf Prints
You can overlap leaves of different colors to make a cool print, like in this photo from First Palette. How about using metallic paint on dark paper to really make those leaves pop! Or print the leaves spaced apart and cut them out when dry to use in another craft. You could also draw a tree trunk first and stamp on the leaves. (You can find instructions here.)
What can you do with the prints when done if you’ve run out of wall space for your little Picasso’s work? How about making a card for Grandma? Or print on large paper or even brown craft paper and use as wrapping paper. Or use it to decoupage a shoebox! If you have a large enough variety, why not make a book identifying the leaves? Include a leaf print on each page, and then your child can write the name of the tree/plant, or print out a label on the computer. For a more advanced activity, write (or print out) more details about the tree or plant. You could even include a picture of what the whole tree looks like. (See below for more book ideas.)
#5: Natural Paintbrushes
Instead of using natural elements as the subject of the art, why not use them as the tools to make the art? I love the idea of experimenting with the different textures you could get from different elements. Try an evergreen like spruce or juniper to get a rough texture, or maybe even splatters. Or you could make a brush out of long blades of grass for a smoother, more controlled line. Or what about using a flower like a yellow dandelion for big splotches of color? Fine lines can be achieved with a small stick or piece of straw. An acorn cap could be used to stamp circles. The possibilities are endless!
#6: Face Plant?
When I first saw this on Pinterest, I giggled. You can turn your kid into a Chia Pet! Young kids will get such a kick out of this. As the grass grows you can even give it a haircut! Following to the original source of the image, there wasn’t any how-to for this project, so I’ll do my best here.
The highlight of this craft is the cup with the face on it. You could just print out a picture and tape it on the outside of the cup, but it won’t last long if your kiddo does the watering. Instead here’s a trick I picked up from my daughter’s preschool. Do you remember the story I mentioned a few weeks ago about the morning glory plant my daughter brought home from preschool? And now I have morning glories EVERYWHERE?!? Anyway, she had brought it home in one of these little cups with a cute picture on it. They’d cut a piece of paper to fit inside the cup, and then put another cup on top of it, sandwiching the paper in the two layers of plastic. This protected the label.
The cup is a 9-ounce clear plastic cup, often used at parties for cocktails (like these). The hardest part of this was getting the right shape for the paper insert for a nice fit! Different brands of that style cup are all a little different, but should be pretty close. I made sure the edges overlap enough to fit different brands. I searched around but didn’t find a template for the paper insert, so I made one. Oh, would you like to use it too? Of course I have it available for you! There’s the PDF version and a PNG version. If you want to print out a blank insert and then write, draw, or color on it, glue on a picture, add stickers, whatever, then print out the PDF. If you want to get fancier and print your image and/or text directly onto the paper insert, then download the transparent PNG file and edit in your favorite editing program (or you can even use Microsoft Word). Just make sure you don’t scale the image when you print or copy it into another file.
Once you have your cup ready, add potting soil and sprinkle on some grass seed and lightly water. Be careful not to over-water, since this cup doesn’t have drainage holes. You could use regular lawn grass seed, or cat grass, wheat grass, or chia seeds for curlier hair like the Chia Pets have.
If you keep it moist (not wet) it should only take a few days to a week to sprout. And then the fun begins!
#7 Flower Petal Stained “Glass”
This nature craft is really up there on the “WOW!” scale. So much color! There are some beautiful designs on the how-to page at The Artful Parent (I’m still waiting on permission to show her pictures here). Go ahead and check them out. I’ll wait…. So, what did you think? Don’t kid yourself. Yours won’t turn out like those. The images I’m showing here are from Live, Laugh, and Learn. This is probably more like what your kids will make. I know when we did this craft, ours were a lot like these. Still beautiful, but on a whole different level. We’ve done this craft before, but nothing ever came out as beautiful as what I’m showing here from The Artful Parent.
Get the kids to go out and pick some flowers and greenery. They can be from your neighbor’s flower beds, weeds on the side of the road, wildflowers in the meadow, or whatever. Cut some clear contact paper (shelf liner) to the size you want. Hint: use some rolled painters tape or some other temporary tape to help keep the contact paper flat on your work surface. Then arrange flower petals and leaves in any pattern you’d like. You can arrange them to be flowers, or some abstract pattern. If the flowers are tiny enough you can leave them whole, but you really need something pretty flat.
Make sure to leave enough space uncovered so the “paper” will have enough stickiness left. When you are done, you can stick it directly to a window or glass door. You could also cut another piece of contact paper the same size and carefully place it over your arrangement to make a flower sandwich. Then you can hang it anywhere. When Em and I have done this craft in the past, we went with the sandwich option and even made a little frame with construction paper. We still stuck it on a french door so we could get the light shining through for that translucent effect, but we used tape to hang it.
Note that this art won’t be permanent. The flowers will likely start to fade or shrivel in a few weeks. But it is so worth it!
#8 Flower Branches
I know I’ve seen lots of variations of this craft. Of course, now that I’m looking to reference one, I can’t find the exact variation I wanted, but this one on Inner Child Fun is close. She painted branches on a page, but I like using real branches. The key is finding the smaller, delicate ones that are flexible enough to glue fairly flat to heavy paper or poster board, or even cardboard. Send the kids out into the yard after a windy day or storm and they are bound to find these little guys lying around. Bonus is that you are getting your kids to do yard work without them knowing it!
If you use cardboard, cover it first with some bright paint or fun scrapbooking paper or even wrapping paper. You may also want to glue the branches to the background ahead of time and let it dry before adding the flowers. Next you cut up little squares of tissue paper, or circles, or whatever shape. It doesn’t have to be precise, so the kiddos can do this part if they can use scissors. Then wad them up and glue them to the paper. If the kids are a little older, instead of wadding them up, they can wrap the tissue paper squares over the back of a pencil (eraser end) to form a little cup (like a tiny cupcake wrapper), then dip in glue and press to the paper with the pencil. (If you aren’t familiar with this, check out Emmy Mom for the technique).
I think the key to this arts and crafts project is choosing the right colors, like a vibrant blue background and lots of bright yellows, oranges, and pinks for the flowers so they pop.
#9 Nature Identification Book
I mentioned a variation of this earlier as part of the leaf print activity. Why not make a book! After collecting leaves, you can either do rubbings, prints, or press the leaves, one per page. Or why not take photographs! Kids love taking pictures, whether they have their own camera, use your cheap point and shoot, or grab your phone or iPad. My daughter is actually the one who came up with this idea. She went all over the yard, taking photos of flowers, weeds, leaves on the trees, bushes, and herbs in the garden. She also tried getting photos of bugs (worms, spiders, slugs, bees). We haven’t assembled our book yet, but once we do, I’ll write a more detailed post with pictures.
However you get your images or actual specimens onto the page, then it’s time to label. Younger kids can cut and paste printed labels, and older ones can write it themselves. They could include other details too, like where they got the specimen or photo, and what time of year it was.
If you put the pages in a binder (or tie with yarn or ribbon) you could add to it over time. Going on vacation? See if you can find unique specimens to add to the book!
For even younger kids, turn this instead into a matching game. Over at Wildflower Ramblings you can find printable leaf identification cards. Print ones you think you’ll be able to find. Then either bring the cards with you outside to be more of a treasure hunt, or find the leaves first and then try to match them up.
#10 Make a Birdhouse or Bird feeder
We have a bird feeder just off of our deck and we all love watching the birds that come by. We even bought a book to help us identify the birds. These birds need a place to live, so why not help them out and give them a cozy home? You can buy kits, or you can find plans online to build one from scratch. Don’t want to spend a lot of money? Use scraps of wood from your DIY projects, or find a construction site to get scraps. Or use branches, or even popsicle sticks.
You can also raid your recycle bin and build a birdhouse out of a 2-liter plastic bottle, like this one found on Fave Crafts.
If you think this is too advanced for you or your kiddo, you can buy pretty cheap, pre-assembled, unfinished birdhouses at a craft store that you can then just paint or decorate. This is what we did a couple of years ago (Em was 4). She enjoyed painting it crazy colors. We used acrylic paint. I then brushed on several layers of polyurethane.
Phew! So there you have it. Ten (or more) activities to keep everyone busy this summer. Craving more?
Check out my Nature Crafts and Activities for Kids board on Pinterest for more activities I find… and follow me while you are there!
I hope you and your little ones get out and try some of these! I’d love to see some of the finished projects!