Jean Van't Hul is a writer, mother of two, and children's art enabler. She shares ideas, information, and inspiration to encourage people to enjoy and share art with the kids in their life at The Artful Parent Blog.
Rachael of Tiddler’s Toolbox shares five nature based art ideas for young children. Paint with mud, print with leaves, create a nature weaving or petal playdough!
Our natural environment can provide us with the majority of the tools to teach and entertain our little ones, we just need to be resourceful and understand how to use it.
Today, I’m going to share with you five of my favorite ways to use nature with art and hopefully inspire you to use the great outdoors a little more.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
You DO NOT have to purchase any fancy rocks, bark, flowers etc to include nature in your play. I honestly have a larger stash of natural resources than purchased resources for my little ones. Get them involved and go on a nature hunt together. I promise you, they will love it.
You don’t always have to plan your activity, but you can use your environment for inspiration. Fallen petals or even an old bouquet can provide so many learning experiences. Weeds are also one of my firm favorites. It’s amazing how many ideas I have for dandelion petals and leaves!
5 Nature Based Art Ideas
1. Mud Prints
This one is completely free and super easy to set up. I simply collected a range of stems with either leaves or flowers at the end to act as my paintbrush. You could get a little more creative if you wanted to and tie bunches of rosemary leaves onto the end of a stick, but in reality, we don’t always have time for that.
Use either paint, or as featured here, mud paint, and your little ones will have a blast creating prints, marks, shapes or pictures with each natural brush.
I was a little brave and brought this activity indoors, but it is easy to get your little ones to paint straight onto the patio, shed or even a fence.
Recipe for Mud Paint:
1 part soil (any type will do)
1 part water
1 part PVA glue (do not add if you want the mud paint to wash off)
2. Leaf Prints
Have you ever thought about how beautiful a leaf could look? Well we explored this during our leaf printing activity.
We collected a variety of leaves from the garden, painted the backs of them and printed them onto plain paper.
Less paint is more in this case, especially if you want to showcase all of the amazing veins running through the leaves.
This is also easily adapted for the older children– I suggest talking about why leaves have veins and their importance. This time, we simply observed the different shapes the leaves created.
3. Petal Playdough
Is homemade playdough your thing? I must make a batch every couple of weeks simply because I love how I can adapt it to suit our interests.
Recently our garden was covered in pink petals that had sadly fallen due to some heavy rain. But fear not, I was out there collecting as many as I could!
There are a few ways that you can incorporate petals into your dough:
Blitz the petals up with one cup of hot water to change the color of the water to create a natural dye.
Tear the petals and add them to a plain batch of playdough.
I have used so many natural materials within my playdough recipe in the past, from grass cuttings, to turmeric, to lavender, to sand and so on.
The recipe that I always use is as follows.
Mix together and knead:
1 cup of flour (any flour)
1 teaspoon of cream of tarter
1/3 cup of salt
1 tablespoon of oil (any oil)
1 cup of freshly boiled water
Generally, if I add in an additional dry ingredient for example cocoa powder, I will add it in with the flour to create the one cup required.
Pro tips: If I am adding petals or leaves, I don’t normally have to adapt the recipe, I will just knead it in at the end. And if I add in a liquid, depending on the amount, I may add less water.
4. Leaf insects
We had so much fun with this one and spoke a lot about the different parts of a butterfly. My kids collected two larger leaves and two smaller leaves for the butterfly’s wings. Then we needed to find something to represent its body, head and antennae.
We used PVA glue to stick each body part to a piece of card and left it to dry for at least an hour.
There are so many possible variations with this activity. Why not adapt it to your little one’s interests? My dinosaur crazy little boy would love to create a brontosaurus.
5. Fine motor nature weave
Choose your shape then draw and cut it out of an old piece of cardboard or recycled cereal box.
I tied elastic bands around our little hedgehog, but string would work just fine.
Fine motor activities are great for developing and strengthening those smaller finger movements which will help your little ones when they are ready to start writing.
Nature Based Art Ideas for Kids
I hope that I provided you with some simple, easy and relatively cheap (if not free) nature based art ideas to try with your children.
I am continually coming up with new ways to use nature within our play and learning activities, so be sure to follow along with us on Instagram.
Kids can create their own building material by transforming a box into cardboard building discs. Stack the discs to make these awesome sculptures! This art activity provides open-ended creative exploration for kids. Project & post by Samara Caughey of Purple Twig
A few years ago, I put together this project for our Architecture week of Summer Camp. I love the idea of the kids creating their own building materials to make sculptures.
As children are a part of the entire making process, it gives them a stronger relationship to the creating of the sculptures.
The other aspect of this project I love is the reusing of materials, transforming the seemingly mundane cardboard box into a playful sculpture.
Cardboard Building Discs Sculptures
Cardboard- I cut the circles out ahead of time in different sizes.
Tempera cakes in fluorescent colors
Plastic tarp or oil cloth to cover work surface
1. Make the cardboard building discs
Each child chose about 6–10 circles and then cut the slots themselves around the circles. This took some time and there was definitely some complaining about tired hands but ultimately, as repetitive tasks allow us to do, we had some great conversation as the cutting persisted.
2. Paint the cardboard building discs
We then laid out the cardboard discs on the table and the kids began to paint.
I really like using the florescent tempera cakes because they are so bright against the brown cardboard.
The kids splatter painted, made lined patterns, mixed colors and explored different ways to paint on the circle.
3. Start building with cardboard building discs
Once dry, it’s time to begin to build with the circles. The children worked both collaboratively and individually to make sculptures.
They tried to see how high they could make the discs, then they had the sculpture crawl off the table and onto the floor. There are just so many options.
When finished, we stacked up the cardboard discs to build another day.
The completely revised and updated edition of The Artful Parent book by Jean Van’t Hul is being released June 11th! This book will help you raise creative kids and fill your family’s life with fun art activities. Preorder now to receive 6 awesome bonuses!
I have some super exciting news to share! I created a brand new version of The Artful Parent book! And it’s going to be available soon — June 11th.
*See below for preorder info & lots of bonuses!
Why I Updated The Artful Parent Book
The original Artful Parent was a pretty good book, if I do say so myself, but it was first published in 2013 (written in 2011) and it was ready for a few updates, including the art materials recommendations and the resources. And as I started making the updates, I got a little carried away.
Okay, really carried away.
I ended up spending a good chunk of last year adding a couple of chapters, including one on drawing with confidence and creativity, revising and updating parts of the book, adding LOTS of new art activities and revising others, reshooting most of the photos, and getting a redesign.
I am so very lucky that my publisher, Roost Books, gave me the opportunity to edit and improve this book and so very happy with this completely revised and updated version of The Artful Parent.
If you’re not already familiar with the book, it’s called The Artful Parent: Simple Ways to Fill Your Family’s Life with Art & Creativity. The original was an Amazon Bestseller, winner of the Family Choice Award, and was translated into several other languages.
It’s taken on a life of its own and I hear from parents, grandparents, teachers, bloggers, and instagrammers all the time about the impact that it has had on their families, kids, lives, etc.
So anyway, this book is my baby. And as with any proud parent, I am super proud and excited to share it with you in it’s better, dressed up teenage version.
Preorder My New Book!
I want to encourage you to preorder the revised edition of The Artful Parent, especially if you have young children or work with them. And I put together some awesome preorder bonuses for you.
If you preorder the book before the publication date of June 11th, you’ll receive ALL of the following for FREE:
6 Preorder Bonuses for The Artful Parent Book
A mini course on Rocking Simple Art Invitations
1 Month membership in the Kids Art Spot (also home of the Summer Camp for Creative Kids from June-August)
11 Ways to Raise Creative Kids (virtual workshop & workbook)
Artful Parent Planning Calendar (printable PDF)
5 frameable Creativity & Parenting quotes (as beautiful PDF printables) to hang up for inspiration
Weekend Inspiration Newsletter from The Artful Parent (okay, okay, subscribing to my newsletter is always free, but you want in on it, right?!)
So order the book for yourself. Order it for a friend or family member. Buy it for a teacher. Get it for a babysitter, nanny, caregiver. Order it as a baby shower gift.
Create a bright, colorful yarn wall hanging OR a wooly wall monster–your choice with this engaging textile activity! Project & post by Laura & Emily of MAKE Art School.
Have you ever noticed how busy hands make for chatty times?
Connectedness comes so much more easily when we have a shared activity to engage in.
This is one of the absolute privileges of teaching art–to be able to offer a welcoming, nurturing space for artists of all ages to connect with each other, express themselves and PLAY creatively without judgement.
Art is cool like that. It has the potential to provide all of these benefits, for whomever you share it with.
It could be mindful making with family, casual crafting with friends, or a creative classroom filled with students.
Or often in our case, all of the above!
The following colorful project is a fun little number that accommodates all ages and abilities. It works well as a collaborative project and most importantly, keeps hands busy for those chatty times!
And the end result looks AMAZING!
We call it the…
Wooly Yarn Wall Hanging
(and if you add some googly eyes it becomes a Woolly Wall MONSTER!)
An arch shaped piece of cardboard (any size works, but keep in mind the bigger it is, the longer it will take to complete)
Double sided tape
Yarn in a range of colors
Tinsel for textural variety and SPARKLE!
Googly eyes for Woolly Wall Monster variation (optional)
1. Cut yarn
Begin by cutting yarn into even lengths. Anywhere between 10cm and 20cm works well, but feel free to get experimental!
The quickest way is to wrap it around a scrap piece of cardboard several times and cut along the edges.
2. Begin attaching yarn to cardboard
Start attaching your first row of yarn by running a strip of tape across the bottom of your cardboard and attaching pieces of yarn.
This is an opportunity to talk about color choices. Which colors look good alongside each other? What is everyone’s favorite color?
3. Continue adding rows of yarn
Run a second row of tape above the previous one and continue as before, alternating colors, perhaps adding tinsel for texture here and there.
Continue row by row like this until you reach the top and have created a fluffy and fantastically MAGICAL work of ART!
4. Add googly eyes
At this point you can add googly eyes for a Monster, or not for a more serious piece of contemporary textile wall art!
Create gorgeous decorative tiles with air drying clay and a surprising method for adding color. This is a fool-proof project for novice potters. And best of all – no firing required! Post by Danielle Falk of Little Ginger Studio
This easy clay project is inspired by the work of Scottish artist Hilke MacIntyre, and her wonderful ceramic relief sculptures (tiles).
I’ve mentioned before how fun and therapeutic clay is for both children and adults and this project is no different.There really is something magical, almost primal about clay.
I can’t overstate the fact that kids love clay (except for that one kiddo who hates the feel of drying clay on their hands!).
Clay relief tiles are very much an adult and child make together piece as children will need help rolling out the clay and with joining.
Choosing your clay
Our favorite clay to use with kids is an Australian brand of buff terracotta paper clay with paper fibers added to improve strength. It can be fired or used as an air-drying clay. That’s right – you don’t need a kiln!
There are numerous quality air drying clays available. You can find paper clay in the US as well.
How to Make Clay Relief Tiles
paper clay or air dry clay
clay cutter (a piece of wire or fishing line attached to pegs will do)
small bowl of water
wooden board, wooden table or piece of cloth to work on (I’ve used dense cardboard before and it works OK)
wooden skewer for scoring & cutting
clay modeling tools / popsicle sticks
fluorescent oil pastels & tempera paints OR acrylic paints
paint brushes & water containers
1. Roll out clay relief tiles
Your first step is to roll out a flat piece of clay otherwise know as the slab. Slabs are a basic form used to build things in clay, along with coils (clay snakes) and pinch pots (hand-pinched bowls).
Now that you know some technical ceramic terminology, you’ll sound like an expert when you make this with kids!
The key to slabwork is ensuring the clay is adequately thick as it tends to shrink with drying up to 30% and can end up too thin and break. I usually aim for the thickness of a teacher’s finger (2cm / 3/4 of an inch).
Pro tip: If you roll the slab too thin – it’s always best to start again.
Start with a ball of clay a bit bigger than your fist. Cut a slice with your cutter) and flatten it into a hamburger / giant cookie shape (NOTE: this is not technical ceramic terminology!).
Roll it out slowly and evenly with a rolling pin until smooth and the correct thickness.
2. Cut clay relief tiles
Use your wooden skewer to carefully cut the slab into a square or rectangular tile.
You may wish to use a paper stencil to help get very straight edges – the neater your work, the better effect.
3. Create decorations
To decorate your tile, add shapes cut from smaller thin slabs (can be quite thin).
You can make these simply by flattening them in your palms and then cutting with a skewer.
We looked at Hilke Macintyre’s work and created simplified depictions of plants and flowers.
4. Attach the decorations
This is a crucial skill in ceramics and quite difficult for some children to master. Kids often get swept up with creating and forget this step – and then their work falls apart when dry!
In order to join two pieces of clay the technique of score & slip (more terminology!) is used.
In our case, using air drying clay, score & water will do. Basically each surface to be joined needs to be scratched (scored) with a skewer, a dash of water applied to both and then the two surfaces pressed firmly together. In this way the clay fibres join when dry. (See steps below)
After your decorations are firmly attached, use the skewer, clay tools & popsicle sticks to add lots of texture.
5. Exercise some patience
Next, wait until your tile dries out completely – not kinda, not a little bit, but completely! This could take anywhere between 3 days and 2 weeks depending on the weather.
Pro tip: Don’t be tempted to place it in an overly warm place like a sunny windowsill as it will warp! Aaaah clay, always a little bit temperamental.
6. Add color to clay relief tiles
Once completely dry, decorate your tile with acrylic paints (making sure you add sufficient white to your colors so that the colors don’t dry too dark) OR use this surprising technique inspired by Sunnyside Art House.
First, gently color parts of your tile with fluorescent oil pastels, and then add fluorescent tempera paints over the top. Be careful not to press too hard or use too much water.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Check out our list of nature art ideas and recycled art projects for kids that are fun to make AND more friendly for our Earth.
To celebrate Earth Day next week, our team gathered together a list of 30 nature based art activities and recycled art projects for kids.
Through art, there exists a great opportunity to teach children to be good stewards. Children learn to reuse lids, caps and milk cartons. To turn a cardboard box into a castle, fort, or robot. To recycle cardboard tubes and create sculptures.
The possibility to assemble and make new things while recycling or upcycling the old sparks children’s imagination as they explore these non-traditional materials.
And a short walk outside with my son allows us the opportunity to breathe deep, soak in the sunshine and fresh air. To gather pinecones and sticks, some rocks and more sticks. Then to head home with our new treasures.
As we collect recyclables, save cardboard and consider how to give something old a new purpose, our kids are watching and learning this skill themselves. Below are some ideas that will hopefully inspire and put some of that recycling bin to creative use.
Happy Earth Day!
30 Nature Based + Recycled Art Projects for Kids
7 Recycled Art Projects Using Recycled Materials
Painted Wood Block Sculptures on The Artful Parent by Danielle Falk. An easy sculpture project using wood scraps that’s fun to make for kids of all ages.
5 BEST Toddler Art Activities on The Artful Parent by Catalina Gutierrez. Paint a nature wall, create a collaborative recycled wall, reuse plastic caps and lids for sensory bins & use sticks, leaves and the like for set-ups!
Milk Carton Sailboat on Art Camp. Perfect for the sailboat loving kid in your life–use a recycled milk carton to create an amazing little sailboat.
Create amazing and colorful dot paintings inspired by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Project & post by Catalina Gutierrez of Redviolet Studio.
Yayoi Kusama. What can I say about her?
She is one of the most amazing and inspiring Japanese contemporary artists! Her sculptures and installations are breathtaking and she has done so many other things; from paintings to fashion, films, and even poetry!
There’s a great book about her that we read before starting with this activity: “From Here to Infinity” written by Sarah Suzuki, and beautifully illustrated by Ellen Weinstein. I highly recommend it as it’s a great one to add to your children’s book library. And it’s an awesome starting point to get the kids inspired by her wonderful work.
After reading it, the children were fascinated by her patterns and repetitions. The work that most impressed them was Obliteration Room: a complete living room painted white and covered in rainbow polka dots.
Please check it out and share it with your kids before you start this project! So great!
This was our starting point as I talked to them about how we were going to focus on circles, just like Kusama did. We would be doing all kinds of circles in various sizes and colors using different techniques.
Yes, only circles. Again and again all over the paper.
So here it is! Let’s make some stunning paintings inspired by her!
Yayoi Kusama Inspired Dot Paintings
Heavy weight watercolor paper
Liquid watercolors in various colors
Circle labels (stickers) in different colors
Recycled lids (in all sizes)
Tempera paint in a variety of colors
Round paper plates
Jars for the watercolors
1. Draw Circles
Set out a sheet of watercolor paper for each child. Bring out the oil pastels and ask the children to start working on their circles, choosing a variety of colors.
Talk to them about how they can make tiny circles and fill them with color, or maybe bigger ones with only an outline or the other way around.
Remind them to repeat these circles all over the paper.
2. Paint with watercolors
Bring out the liquid watercolors poured into jars and with each jar include a paintbrush so colors don’t get mixed and dirty.
To reinforce this I always tell the kids, “Every brush has its own little house and doesn’t like to be moved into a different one, so please make sure you put them back in its house after you use it.”
Ask the kids to either paint new circles or fill in the previously made circle outlines or both.
3. Stamp more circles
Bring out the tempera paint (previously poured onto paper plates) and all the recycled lids you were able to save for this project.
Show the children how they can make circular “stamps” by placing the lid over the paint and then onto the paper. Encourage them to use different sizes of lids and different colors of paint.
4. Add circle stickers
Lastly, bring out the circle stickers. Neon colors, primary colors, golden, glittery, anything you have! And different sizes if possible.
This is their favorite part. Who doesn’t love stickers right?
Ask the kids to stick them to the paper. Stickers can be placed inside their painted circles or around, or anywhere else they like. Encourage them to cover as much as they can of the paper.
I assure you this project is a winner. The kids enjoyed making these painting so much and the results were so stunning. Don’t do you think?
Mixed media collage portraits are a great way to explore texture and use recycled materials. Project and post by Krista Simcoe of Riverside Art Studio.
These mixed media collage portraits are a great lesson for exploring portraiture and texture with kids.
I made this project with a group of 4 – 8 year old students. We were exploring texture all week in the studio and I wanted to introduce the portrait genre to my students, so I thought, “Why not combine the two?”
We talked about portraits in class and how a portrait is a picture of a person. I referenced school portraits and selfies as a modern version of portraiture.
You could also pull out whatever portrait examples you might have on hand. Pull them up on a computer or print them out ahead of time.
We also discussed the parts of the face, eyes, nose and mouth along with eyebrows, eyelashes, cheeks, ears, etc. The more details you add to these portraits the more character and individuality they will have.
Start with a cardboard base of a square and a circle. I used some cardboard cake bases that I had leftover from another project, but you could easily use whatever cardboard you have lying around.
Cut out a square and paint with white acrylic paint for the base. Then cut out a circle and glue to the square as a starting point.
2. Gather interesting materials with good texture.
Think about the features you are trying to represent. A cut up straw and pom pom for the nose, buttons for the eyes, yarn for the mouth, cut up toothpicks for the eyelashes, lace for the hair, cardboard squares and rectangles for the neck and shoulders. Don’t overthink it.
Put out some objects that are interesting and let the kids surprise you with their creativity. They don’t need a ton of instruction with this project, just a base to start with and a lot of fun materials to choose from.
3. Put all the supplies out like a buffet of textural awesomeness.
You can use separate containers or a tinker tray (I like to use a utensil organizer from Ikea) along with lots of glue. Usually I tell the kids a little dab will do it, but with these materials you need a big ol’ glob.
Press those materials into the glue for a few seconds so they stick and keep a damp towel out for wiping sticky fingers.
4. Use oil pastels & markers to add details & color
I put drawing supplies out last so the kids focus more on the texture supplies. These are just for finishing touches.
I just adore how these portraits came out. Each one is so individual and I love how they show the personality of each little artists.
These definitely need some time to dry so leave them out for at least an hour, but preferably overnight. Then you want to give them the “shake test”. I have all my students do this before they take a collage home.
Pick up the piece and give it a gentle shake up and down. Secure any pieces that might have fallen off with an extra dab of glue or use a hot glue gun if necessary.
I hope you enjoy creating these fun mixed media collage portraits for kids!
About the Author
My name is Krista Simcoe, and I am the owner and instructor at Riverside Art Studio. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University and a Masters in Art Education from Kean University. I am a certified art teacher in the state of New Jersey and was a public school art teacher for 15 years.
Riverside Art Studio is the result of a longtime dream of mine to have a studio where kids, families and community can come together and have a true artistic experience. A place where kids are allowed to create without restrictions. I wanted to provide a space for kids to enjoy the process of art-making and experiment with art materials and processes, igniting the creative spark and placing kids on the road to becoming makers and creators.
Drawing prompts are one of our favorite creative drawing activities for kids because they inspire children to draw and think in a different way (often more creatively!) than when faced with a blank page.
Did you know that you can help children draw and think more creatively by inspiring them with interesting and challenging art prompts and questions?
Drawing prompt ideas can be anything from tangle art, story prompts, decorate-your-own _______ and fill-in-the _______, abstract art, and other prompts to encourage creative drawing, thinking, and problem solving. They can be prompts that you create yourself on paper or a chalkboard. They can be printable activities that you can download from the internet (I have lots!). Or they can be part of a drawing or activity book for kids.
While offering a blank piece of paper is great, too, sometimes have a creativity prompt such as a drawing prompt can help children (and everyone!) to draw and think in ways that they might not otherwise.
Using Art Prompts as Creative Drawing Activities for Kids
Drawing Prompts for Kids to Inspire Creative Drawing & Thinking - YouTube
This video shows how we use drawing prompts, the creative drawings kids make in response to some drawing prompts, and it shows the library of drawing prompts we have inside the KIDS ART SPOT. And if you’d like to access the full library of drawing prompts and printables we have in there, you can try it out now for just $1 (for a two-week trial).
I recommend creating or printing out drawing prompts to offer your kids at home (it’s a great simple art invitation!), while traveling, or to occupy time at restaurants and waiting rooms.
3 Examples of Printable Drawing Prompts and the Drawings Kids Made with Them
How and When to Use Drawing Prompts as Easy Creative Drawing ActivitiesPresentation Ideas
Set out a drawing prompt on a clean table or desk with a pen, crayons, or markers.
Offer drawing prompts with other art supplies sometimes, such as paint, stickers, or collage items.
Place a drawing prompt on a clipboard or lap desk with a box of washable markers for the back seat of the car or an airplane ride.
A note to parents: Offer drawing prompts one at a time as a special art invitation, rather than several at once, so that the child’s focus is on addressing the invitation/challenge in front of them rather than on choosing between two or more enticing invitations.