As a mom and working artist, I try to think of ways I can introduce my 3-year-old daughter to the outdoors and the power of imagination through craft projects. And as an employee at the Chicago Botanic Garden, I am inspired by all sorts of family programs and drop-in activities for kids and families that celebrate the outdoors.
What’s fun about nature art is that it starts with an adventure and ends with a surprise. For instance, the “family of owls” that we created may appear in story time later.
Here are some of the nature-inspired activities and kid-friendly crafts that have come out of my journey as a mother and continue to get the best reviews from Laila, my toughest little critic.
Dirt is cool
Even when she was a baby, my daughter was intrigued by dirt. She is still fascinated by it, in any form. In the long winter, when we’re tired of being cooped up, we bring a little of the outdoors inside and put together a mud pie prep kitchen. Supplies include dropcloth, potting soil, spray bottle, pouring cups, pie plates, and sticks, rocks and/or sand for decorating.
Don’t forget to have an old towel underneath your creation station.
The finished muddy treat
Happiness is when mom says it’s OK to play with your food
This is the best way to distract a picky eater, or wow guests with an inexpensive dish you can design with your kids. Laila and I made these creations out of various fruits, vegetables, herbs, and cheeses.
Bite-sized holiday snacks are great for kids who graze.
A vegetable butterfly makes for delicious, healthy snacking.
It’s an outdoor treasure hunt.
Laila and I start by taking adventure walks and filling our pockets or a basket with sticks, leaves, flowers, and other found art objects. Everywhere you look, there are free art supplies.
Every season has something outside to explore.
We made a portrait of our house. Sticks and grass set the scene; Laila works on a mulch-made sun.
Take gatherings inside to make nature scenes or collages inspired by the seasons. Here, onion skins provide the fall leaves for our tree painting.
Rock ’n’ roll with it
Hand-picked rocks can be collected, cleaned, painted, and polished to transform into precious stones with a story attached. Even little nature lovers can apply homemade or washable paint to their rocks before an adult adds a clear topcoat finish. The rock art can be used as a paperweight or embellishment to a potted plant. Add a pipe cleaner and clothespin to make it a photo holder.
Every child likes to collect rocks.
Collected stones can be painted or polished as keepsakes. Here, we’ve added a pipe cleaner and clothespin for a photo holder.
One day we found pine cones and added fabric, buttons, and ribbon to create a family of owls that found a new home in our Christmas tree. Another time we used sticks, wire, glitter, and beads to build a twinkling mobile.
A family of handmade pine cone owls using buttons for eyes and ribbon feet.
A family of pine cone owls made great Christmas ornaments. When the projects are done, we talk about what we made, where our supplies came from, and who we can share our creations with.
Some of my favorite childhood memories are of outdoor exploration with my mom. I hope Laila someday will feel the same way.