The norm for most people nowadays seems to involve sedentary stretches of time spent in front of a glowing screen, but there's lots of family fun to be had doing things that don't involve vegetating indoors. You and your offspring can get out in the fresh air and commune with nature while gathering materials and working on imaginative arts and crafts projects. Such pursuits can spark your kids' creativity and provide opportunities for science- and nature-related lessons.
Most, if not all, crafts require parental supervision, but that just means you get to connect with your children during enjoyable group activities. Whether for educational or family bonding purposes, have a little constructive fun in the sun with the following five outdoor craft ideas for kids. Just don't forget the sunscreen.
If you want to garden but have limited space, container gardens are a nice solution. A container garden can go anywhere that has ample light, including patios, balconies, rooftops, windowsills, or even indoors. They can rest on the ground or hang overhead. You can include flowers, herbs, fruits, vegetables, vines, grasses, trees, shrubs or a variety of other plants -- anything that's in season.
You need a container with ample room for potting soil, the plants and their growing roots, along with proper drainage holes so that the roots don't drown. Store-bought planters tend to have holes already, but you can also get creative and convert unused items into planters by drilling holes to create drainage. You can use baskets, birdcages, tote bags, old shoes, muffin tins, sea shells, teapots, toys, drinking glasses, birdbaths, stacked tires or that little red wagon that's been sitting in your garage for years -- virtually anything that can handle the soil and frequent watering. If an item is too porous, you might be able to line it with plastic or place smaller planters inside. You can also create water gardens instead of soil gardens (in which case you wouldn't need holes). Picking and decorating containers can be a mini-craft project in and of itself.
The garden can be as tiny or large as you want, and you can use one container or a cluster of smaller ones. A popular choice is to combine three plants of differing heights and colors. When combining plants, you just need to make sure that their water, soil, fertilizer, temperature, root depth and light needs are similar. You and the kids can have fun researching and picking out suitable seeds or plants. Already grown plants from the nursery will provide the most instant gratification, but planting seeds and watching them sprout can be fun, too.
Plants in containers need a different growing medium than in-ground plants because they require more drainage and aeration. These special soils are generally made out of more porous materials and sometimes don't even contain actual soil. You can buy them in bags or mix your own if you research ingredients. Keep in mind that the soil will dry out fast, so you may have to water frequently -- perhaps even twice a day -- depending upon the size of the container, the plants' watering needs and the climate.
Making bird feeders is part craft and part nature show, and they only require simple household items plus seed or other edibles.
One of the easiest bird feeder crafts is smearing a cardboard core from a toilet paper roll with peanut butter or honey, rolling it in birdseed and hanging it on a branch. Another basic method is to take a pinecone, spread peanut butter into the crevices, sprinkle it with (or roll it in) seed, tie a string around it and hang it. Shortening, lard or suet can be used in place of peanut butter, especially if anyone doing the craft has a peanut allergy. You can also mix in other food items such as oatmeal, corn meal, millet, dried fruit, chopped nuts and sunflower seeds.
Another fun type is a cookie-cutter bird feeder. Make unflavored gelatin according to the packet directions, let it cool briefly, and then mix in birdseed. Pour or push the mixture into cookie cutters, jar tops or other shallow, suitably shaped molds, and either insert some knotted string or a cylindrical object like a straw to make a hole before they harden. You can hang them outside the next day when they are solid.
If you or the kids want to do heavier construction, you can make bird feeders out of soda bottles or milk or juice cartons. Cut small holes through both sides near the bottom of the desired container and poke a dowel, stick, wooden spoon or other sturdy perch through both holes. Then cut larger openings above the perch so that the birds can get to the food. Add birdseed and suspend it with string, fishing line or wire. A simpler alternative is to take an egg carton, remove the top, run string through each of the four corners of the carton bottom and fill the egg divots with birdseed. For added enjoyment, you can let the kids decorate the feeder with paint, construction paper or other crafting materials.
Birds will also eat other grainy foods like breads and cereal. You can string an "O" shaped cereal onto string, yarn or pipe cleaners, tie the ends and hang it, or fill your egg carton or other feeder with cereal. You can also coat a bagel with a sticky substance like shortening or lard and coat it with birdseed, or use cookie cutters to simply cut bread into shapes, poke a string through and hang it out all by itself.
To prevent squirrels from hijacking your handiwork, you might want to use enough line to make sure the bird feeder isn't too close to a branch. But once your feeder is fastened outside, just wait and watch as nature's feathered friends show up to feast.
Pressing flowers doesn't provide as much instant gratification as some other activities, but you can enjoy it in multiple stages: first gathering and prepping the flowers, and later using the finished products to make other crafts.
Gather fresh flowers from your garden or the wild -- just not anyplace picking might be prohibited. There are lots of good candidates including (but not limited to) pansies, daisies, carnations, poppies, hydrangeas, delphiniums, marigolds, geraniums, tulips, violas, petunias, baby's breath, zinnias, miniature roses and forget-me-nots. You can even press ferns, leaves, grasses, herbs and stray petals.
To do the actual pressing, you can use a store-bought plant press or use materials from around your house to make your own. The simplest method is to take a phonebook, dictionary or other heavy book and place parchment, newspaper, tissue paper, coffee filters or other unglazed, absorbent paper between two pages. Put the flowers between multiple sheets of this interior paper and close it carefully. If you don't care much about preserving your book, you can even omit the extra paper and let its pages do the work. Place something heavy on top to weigh it all down and let it sit for days to weeks. You can also make presses out of layers of plywood or other sheet wood, cardboard and paper, with rubber bands, bungee cords or something else to hold it all together.
It's best to start with flowers that are collected during dry conditions, not after rain or dew. Cut off stems and leaves, unless you want to incorporate those into your crafts. Place your flowers in whatever positions you want. You can do multiple flowers at a time, but make sure they are relatively similar in size and aren't touching one another. If your flowers are too large, you can dissect them or remove parts to make them thinner. Leave the press (makeshift or otherwise) in a well-ventilated place. Check it periodically and carefully replace the surrounding paper if it is moist and the flowers aren't dry. After anywhere from a week to four weeks, your flowers should be nicely dried and ready to save or use. You might be able to speed up the process by heating flowers in a press made of cardboard and paper in the microwave.
The finished flowers can be used to decorate candles, soap, jewelry, eggs, cards, bookmarks, boxes, photo albums, scrapbooks, lampshades and a host of other things. Or you can glue them to paper and frame them as art pieces. The research into different types of flowers should prove educational, and you and the kids can have loads of fun creating floral art with real flowers.
The method of making sun prints, or cyanotypes, was an early technique for creating photographic images or blueprints. Amateur botanist Anna Atkins used it to produce the first entirely photographic book, "Photographs of British Algae," published in 1843. But now you and your kids can use it to create cool artwork.
This craft requires special sun art paper that has been infused with a water-soluble chemical that reacts to sunlight. You can find it online or at art or photography stores. You will also need a shallow container of water, a clear sheet of plastic or glass, some random objects and the rays of the sun. The result will be white and blue art akin to a negative image.
You and your little ones can gather materials such as leaves, flowers, sticks, feathers or anything else with an intriguing silhouette. You can also use stencils or shapes you've cut out. Items that aren't flat will leave less distinct edges, but there is nothing wrong with experimenting. Before you go into the sun, arrange your items on the special paper and place a sheet of plastic or glass over them to keep everything from blowing away. Then take it all outside and leave it in the light. The paper should come with an acrylic sheet, but you can use picture frame inserts and the like if you don't want to be stuck doing one piece at a time. You can also pin the paper to cardboard to keep it in place.
After just a few minutes, remove the objects and place the paper in water for about a minute to wash away the chemicals. The area that was shaded by your objects will remain light and the exposed area will turn blue. You can add a little lemon juice to the water to turn the exposed areas a darker blue. Once the paper is dry, you can put it in a large book for a while to smooth it out. And then you can frame your art, hang it on the fridge or use it to create cards, stationery or other crafts.
There's also sun sensitive fabric that you can use to create clothing or fabric crafts. The sun printing method is similar, although you expose it for longer and rinse the fabric until the water runs clear.
If you do not have any sun paper, you can do something similar with construction paper, although it takes longer. Using a glue stick, affix stencils, leaves or other flat things to a piece of construction paper and tape or hang it in a window with the glued items facing outward. The exposed construction paper will fade after a few days. Peel off the items to reveal the darker silhouette left by your pasted shapes.
A more whimsical outdoor activity is building a habitat for tiny mythical creatures -- fairies. You can use household and craft materials like milk cartons, paper towel rolls, popsicle sticks, fabric, clay, wood glue or anything else that's relatively biodegradable, but the beauty of fairy houses is that you can also make them entirely out of materials gathered from the outdoors; think rocks, sticks, bark, leaves, grasses, vines, flowers, feathers, pine cones and shells. Just be sure not to include anything that might harm animals like small plastic items or metal staples, and try to gather fallen items rather than ripping up live bark or foliage.
You can build your fairy house next to a tree or other natural barrier, in a garden or park or anywhere in your own yard, and make it blend with the surroundings. You can use a milk carton for a base, or you can go entirely natural and make walls by stacking rocks or implanting sticks or bark into the dirt. Then lay a roof with bark or twigs and make a floor with bark, pebbles or leaves. Sticks, bark and pinecones can be used to make fences, and lots of tiny pebbles make a nice pathway. Placing your fairy house over moss would make for a nice built-in floor or lawn, as well.
Get fancy by making tiny furniture out of the same materials. Flowers, pinecones and nut and acorn shells also make nice decorations. Fairy houses can have doors and windows, archways or open sides so that you can easily place furnishings inside. You can even combine this craft with container gardening and creating a fairy habitat in a planter, replete with fairy-sized plants, tiny furniture, pebble paths and the like.
You and your little ones can have fun designing, building and furnishing the dwelling, then imagining the future fairy inhabitants. Trying to give your fairy house structural integrity might help prepare your little ones for futures in architecture or engineering. But it is sure to be loads of fun, too.
Your house needs an outdoor chessboard, and HowStuffWorks can help you make one. Learn more about making an outdoor chessboard.
Author's Note: 5 Outdoor Craft Ideas for Kids
I remember how fun it was to grow strawberries in kindergarten, both in a tiny milk carton and in our class garden outside. We also used to pick wild strawberries and onions and gather pecans on the way home from school, and run around the neighborhood smelling and tasting the honeysuckle. And I grew up in the city!
We got even more exposure to nature via my grandparents' vegetable and flower gardens, and looking through the windows at their hummingbird feeders. The quick-moving, tiny birds provided constant fascination during the right season. Although they sometimes had to fight the wasps for the nectar.
We definitely got outdoors more than most kids seem to these days, so a variety of outdoor craft and plant related projects might be just the thing to help your kids buck the couch potato trend. And they might provide a nice break from the day job for us adults, too. I know I want to build a fairy house now. Or maybe a container garden. Using a shoe. There we go. A "Woman Who Lived in a Shoe"-inspired fairy garden.
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