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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Fun with Kids

Stargazing.

Summer is on its way: the days are lengthening and soon the nights will be warm enough to let the kids stay up late outdoors. Stargazing is the perfect summer country activity: go out together after dark; find the most open, treeless area you can; get lost in all that immensity. Do it more than once. Teach older kids (and yourself) how to identify a few major constellations; later, read the Greek myths upon which they are based. Show preschool kids that the stars make “connect-the-dots” pictures, and let them make their own constellations on paper. Toddlers get bonus points for spotting fireflies along the way. Here are a handful of ways (some of them free) to give your budding astronomers a greater love and knowledge of the starry sky:

Print a simplified (and poster-worthy) summer constellation map for your littler star enthusiasts | Mr. Printables

For more advanced astronomy students, detailed sky maps are updated monthly and are available as a free download | Sky Maps

“Skymaster” giant binoculars are a great, less fussy alternative to the traditional telescope and are easier for kids to manage | Celestron

The Starry Starry Day Activity Kits allow you to stargaze during the day or when the nights are cloudy | Nature Watch

This kid-friendly Map of the Moon poster makes a great (free) addition to the bedroom or playroom wall | Mr. Printables

Add a few of these elegant vintage star map prints to your decor, and they will remind you of your stargazing adventures all year round | Antique Print Store

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