Fun with Kids

Kids + Nature: 10 Projects

The great outdoors is calling. Backyards, parks, and woodland paths offer up a bounty of leaves, seeds, flowers, rocks, and sticks: a cornucopia of natural art supplies, not to mention the basis for a great pine cone collection. Here is a round-up of ten great activities, most of which are free (or almost free) and all of which get the family out of the house, inspecting the wonders of nature and enjoying all that fresh air.

Gather sticks, pinecones, and those great helicopter seed pods for a round of “Pebbles and Pinecones” (click through to the rules at Michele Made Me, or make up your own family game). Build up a nice stash, and the kids can make an endless array of designs. (You can take photos to remember the prettiest ones.) Bonus: use your collections to make fairy houses or to add natural elements to dollhouse play.

Pick up a full spectrum of free paint chips (including plenty of greens), punch holes in each color sample, and head out to match the colors of the cards to the colors in nature. | Inner Child Fun

Collect a few sticks when the family is out and about, and paint bands of color to your heart’s desire. Play with pattern or follow the texture of the bark, then display your handiwork (or add the painted sticks to your Pebbles and Pincones game). | Aesthetic Outburst

Storytelling Stones: Use paint or a Sharpie to add Native American symbols to small rocks, then rearrange them to tell a story. Alternatively, make a set with Egyptian hieroglyphics for your budding archaeologist, or let your children invent their own pictograms based on their favorite fairy tales. | Kiwi Crate

Follow Isabelle Kessedjian’s lovely lead, and make your own rock family and friends. Acrylic paint pens make the painting easier for little hands. These would make a vibrant addition to sandbox play: paint up a bunch of neighbors to populate a sandy town, or place one or two peeking out of flowerpots in the garden.

Make a leaf diary of the trees in your neighborhood, then practice identifying them from memory on family walks.

If a tree falls in your neighborhood (or if someone is having one removed) ask for a few of the smaller branches. Use a saw to slice them into disks and columns, leave the bark intact, and let the kids construct a woodsy metropolis. | Arbor Day Foundation

Collect leaves and flowers, then enjoy a little quiet time activity by threading them onto embroidery floss with a plastic needle. | A Little Learning for Two

Plant sunflowers in a circle (leaving a gap for the “door”), and enjoy a secret natural hideaway when they are fully grown. | Hartland Public Library, VT

Bring the outdoors in by creating a terrarium in a large glass vase or jar. Layer pebbles, soil, and small plants; arrange some stones as landscaping; water it regularly and keep the terrarium in a sunny spot. The plants shown here are succulents, but any small plant will work. Populate your mini-garden with a few figurines (fairies, dinosaurs, bunnies) and imagine the scale of the plants from a bug’s eye view.

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One Wonderful Thing

The Falling Rocket

Whistler (American, 1834-1903) painted his “Nocturne in Black and Gold: the Falling Rocket” in 1875, after the advent of photography changed the landscape of art. For Whistler, realism was no longer the standard by which art was to be judged; photography captured the realistic, and “it [was] for the artist to do something beyond this.” The move towards a certain moody impressionism is clear in this work: its blurry forms, its vaguely industrial landscape, and the stark chiaroscuro explosions of the fireworks give the painting an almost tangible mood.┬áHe (and many others in the “Art for Art’s Sake” movement) were influenced by Japanese art and design. The Asian influence can be seen in the poise of the ghost-like figures at the bottom of the painting, and it is revealed in the calligraphic form of his signature. But most of all, Whistler captures a kind of Japanese aesthetic in his famous splattered fireworks: he uses a seemingly casual, or even careless, technique, but with a precision that gives the work a delicate and exact clarity. The result is startling and ephemeral, like the fireworks he depicts.

Nocturne in Black and Gold: the Falling Rocket (1875) by James Abbott McNeill Whistler is part of the permanent collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

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