Fun Nature Activities, Investigations, and Crafts for Kids
The Joy of Nature Study
Summer is a fantastic time for children to explore the natural world and participate in fun nature activities. At this time of year nature is awake, blossoming, and energetic. Even in cities there are parks, public gardens, and green areas where nature can be observed. There are many possible nature-themed activities that children can enjoy, including creating a nature journal, gardening, performing experiments, producing a wide range of arts and crafts, taking photographs of living things, making videos, and writing stories and poems. There’s no reason to be bored with so much to do.
Although the greatest variety of plants and animals can be seen in summer, nature activities and crafts are enjoyable at any time of year.
Creating a Nature Journal
Nature study can be fascinating. It enables children to discover things about animals and plants from first-hand observations instead of by reading about them in a reference source. They may even discover things that were previously unknown by scientists.
Studying nature is not only interesting but can also improve observational and documentation skills. There are many aspects of a plant or animal's life that children could document. Some possibilities include answers to the following questions.
- What did the animal or plant look like?
- How big was it?
- Where was it found?
- What was its environment like (habitat type, soil pH, partial shade or full sunlight, identity of surrounding animals and plants, etc.)?
- What was the animal doing?
- What was the date and time of day?
- What was the weather like?
- What was the temperature?
Regularly recording observations of common animals seen in the neighbourhood, such as specific birds or insects, could be an enjoyable project for children. So could describing the plants, animals,and changes over time in a particular patch of ground or a particular area of water.
How to Make a Beautiful Cover for a Nature Journal
Things to Add to a Nature Journal
A nature journal may contain more than just a written record of discoveries. Ideally, it's an expression of a child's creativity as well as their interests. Children may decide to add some of the following elements to their journal in addition to written descriptions:
- pressed leaves and flowers
Magnifying Plants and Animals
If a child has a magnifying instrument, a whole new world of nature exploration can open up. A magnifying glass can provide a closer view of plant and insect parts and of small animals that are safe to touch, such as earthworms. Binoculars will give a closer view of birds and animals. A microscope can be used to examine microscopic organisms in pond water. It can also be used to greatly magnify small plant parts and other items that children might discover on their nature walks, such as feathers and parts of dead insects.
When buying optical equipment, it's a good idea to look for a device that has reasonable quality as well as being affordable. Cheap optics often produce unsatisfactory images and don't maintain the interest of children.
Gardening and Plant Experiments
Gardening is fun for most children. It can be magical to see a carefully nurtured plant grow from a seed or to see plant parts such as onions, beans, and carrot tops develop into full-grown plants. It's also fun and healthy for children to eat produce that they've grown themselves. Some plants grow well indoors or in containers, so a garden is not essential.
For children who enjoy experiments, groups of plants can be grown under different environmental conditions and careful records kept so that comparisons can be made. For example, children could compare the effects of different temperatures, soil types, or amounts of light on the growth of a specific type of plant. They could also find out whether using plain water or water with various types and quantities of additives makes the plant grow better. Some plants, such as celery, will absorb food colours added to water. The rate at the which the colour travels through the plant could be measured.
pH test strips are available in pharmacies and the pharmacy departments of some chain stores. They can also be bought online. They are usually inexpensive and are a useful tool for nature explorers. They can be used to discover how acidic or basic a particular liquid is.
Cress seeds sprout easily on damp cotton wool or paper towel. Many children enjoy watching the seeds grow and then eating the sprouts. Creating cress hair for an egg is a fun variation of this activity.
Cress Egg Head Tutorial (No Sound)
Even an inexpensive pencil and piece of paper is enough for a child to draw plants and animals from nature. Libraries usually have books showing children how to draw living things. Observation and art skills get better—that is, more accurate—with practice. Art doesn’t have to be an accurate representation of reality to be great, however. Coloured pencils, crayons, felts, oil pastels, coloured inks, watercolour pencils, and paints can add colour to drawings.
Computer art programs can also be useful for drawing natural objects. Some programs are free to download or to use in an Internet browser. Computers can be used for free at many libraries. Inexpensive art programs and apps are available for mobile electronic devices. If a child is lucky enough to have access to one of these devices, they can create digital art outdoors. Despite the relatively small screen of some devices, people create wonderful works of art with them.
Many children find nature collages fun to create. Cutting pictures out of magazines, newspapers, greeting cards, and food and gift packaging and then arranging them in an interesting design is a creative process. Personal photos and other items such as fibres and fabrics can also be used to make a collage, creating a unique piece of art.
Pressed flowers and leaves are great additions to collages, greeting cards, and bookmarks. Leaf and flower prints or stamps made from natural objects can be useful as well. Natural stamps can be made by forming a shape on the cut surface of a potato and then dipping the shape in paint or ink.
Creating art and crafts with pressed flowers is fun. The traditional method of pressing flowers with heavy books or a flower press takes so long that children may lose interest in the process, however. Pressing or drying flowers in a microwave solves this problem.
Pressing Flowers in a Microwave
Nature sculptures, 3D pictures, or room decorations can be created with natural materials like cones, twigs, branches, nuts, seeds, feathers, sea shells, and pressed flowers and leaves. Fibrous plant materials can be woven into shapes. Jewelry can also be made from collections of natural objects. Pre-made containers like flower containers and pots or natural objects such as stones or wood can be decorated with flat or 3D nature illustrations. Natural dyes can be created from some plants, which can be used to colour fabrics and other items.
Nature-themed crafts are also fun, even when synthetic materials are used instead of natural ones. Paper sculptures of plants and animals can be enjoyable to make. For more expensive sculptures, artificial clays that are either air dried or oven baked can be bought in arts and crafts stores and sometimes in toy stores. Dough sculptures can also be made.
How to Make a Paper Rose
The project below is both a craft and a way to attract birds for observations. Try to use the most natural peanut butter possible in a pine cone bird feeder and avoid additives.
How to Make a Natural Bird Feeder
Taking Nature Photos and Videos
Even cheaper digital cameras take good photographs today. The cameras usually have the ability to record video as well. Children can print the photos and add them to their nature journal or other creative work. Photos and videos can also be shared with friends and relations.
Free or inexpensive digital imaging and video editing programs are available and are fun to use on a computer. They enable a child to do basic editing such as improving the sharpness and exposure of a photo. Filters enable a child to create art from a photo and allow the child's imagination and creativity to roam free.
Inspired by their nature observations, children might enjoy writing stories or poems with nature themes. Some children might like to create other items, such as a nature-themed board game or card game for friends to play or a nature newspaper for people to read.
A nature newspaper could contain news, observations, photos, and opinions. It could also include nature puzzles for readers to solve. There are free crossword creators on the Internet which let children print their puzzles after creating them.
Students could use scissors and glue to create their newspaper on paper filed in a binder or in a preformed notebook. Alternatively, they could use a computer word processor or desktop publishing program to produce the newspaper. Copies of the finished paper could be distributed to family, friends, and neighbours.
Places to Visit for Making Nature Observations
Home or public gardens or parks are great places to make nature observations. Hiking in the mountains with the family can take a child to new environments, Local zoos, museums, and agricultural fairs could also be visited to make observations. Areas with water can be especially interesting. Lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, the sea shore, and the ocean can all be very interesting places to explore. A family vacation offers the chance for brand new nature discoveries.
At home, bird feeders are great for observing bird behaviour. Even family pets can be carefully observed and their behaviours in specific situations recorded and then researched. If there is no garden at home, the growth of plants in containers and the activities of any visiting insects could be observed.
Safety Tips for Exploring Nature
Children and adults should follow a few safety precautions for themselves and the environment when they are exploring nature.
- Children should always wash their hands after handling soil, plants, and animals. Protective gloves may be useful in certain situations.
- Children and their parents should recognize and avoid poisonous or stinging plants and fungi or dangerous animals.
- Parents should make sure that younger children don't pick berries or other plant parts to eat and instruct older ones to avoid them.
- Items that children want to collect for use in home projects should be inspected. Some may not be safe or may decay quickly unless preserved.
- Appropriate clothing and items such as sunscreen and/or some other form of sun protection may be necessary when exploring nature.
- Some places may be unsafe for children to explore on their own.
- Children should be told that animals need to be treated gently and returned to their habitat unharmed after they’ve been observed.
- Children shouldn't pick plants if there are only a few specimens in the area.
- They should also make sure that they don't damage animal and plant habitats.
If these precautions are followed, exploring nature can be a wonderful activity for the whole family. It's both enjoyable and educational. It can also be the stimulus for other interesting activities.
© 2011 Linda Crampton