Invitation to Nature-Based Play: Snow Kitchen


The Snow Kitchen was an instant success and provided my boys with endless scenarios of imaginative play”

Towards the end of summer, we posted an invitation that described how you might make an outdoor Mud Kitchen for messy, but fulfilling, nature based play. Recently I was giving some thought to repurposing this mud kitchen into a Snow Kitchen. The homemade cooktop, all of the pots, pans and utensils, the various dishes and muffin tins could be reused. The water and mud would be replaced with endless amounts of snow. To sweeten this kitchen experience, and to add a couple of new touches, I gave my sons spray bottles filled with colored water and a few more ice gems (see previous post: Snow Gems).

The Snow Kitchen, just like the mud kitchen, was an instant success and provided my boys with endless scenarios of imaginative play, rich vocabulary, and (fleeting but appreciated) moments of cooperative play.

They made a dozen snow muffins, a variety of snow cakes (formed by compacting snow in a potato ricer), bowls of snow ice cream (using an ice cream scoop), trays of snow cubes, and mugs of snow cocoa, all decorated with the red and blue water sprayed on top.

This time the boys realized that the space below the cooktop could be used as an oven to bake the snow creations.

IMG_1390Once all of their goodies were made, they opened a Snow Café and served their Dad snow drinks and snow snacks.

IMG_1429This was so much fun that we all forgot how cold is was outside (at least, for a little while). Happy Nature-Based Snow Playing!

Invitation by: Laura Grunze-Franz

Getting Creative with Paint-Simple Outdoor Paint Projects for Kids!

    char painting leaf sheetAs the days are getting warmer the draw to be outside more and more hours of the day is clearly being felt by my young daughters and their friends.  I have started to get creative with doing those afternoon art projects outside around my yard-here are a few fun and simple ideas to help you soak up some sun, have fun, and get messy in nature!

Leaf Painting on an Old Sheet:

I have been doing some nature-based early childhood education work with Project Learning Tree lately and came across this great idea.  I just had to try it out!

I headed to Goodwill and picked up a white sheet for $4.00.  I grabbed some plates and put on a variety of washable finger paints.  My daughters then put their hand and footprints all over and took leaves and painted all around the leaf-leaving the imprint behind.  We can now use the sheet for a variety of things, a roof for a homemade playhouse, a picnic blanket or just a huge ever-changing canvas!  SO MUCH FUN!

sheet leaf painting sheet painting 1

The Dirty and Clean Car Wash

We took a bunch of small cars and ran them through washable paint…then drove them all over paper leaving colorful tracks behind….I set up a car wash station with rags and bubbles in an old plastic bin…they LOVED cleaning the cars and then getting them dirty driving them through the paint again and again!

car painting and wash

Fish Printing

Catch a fish lately on your spring camp out or making fish for dinner?  Before you eat it consider this fun and easy art project-Fish Printing!

Take the fish and put it on a flat surface like a tray or piece of newspaper.  Use a paper towel to dry off the fish.  Paint paint directly on the fish with a brush.  Lay the fish down on paper or on a T-shirt (use fabric paint for the T-shirts).  Press gently on the fish.  Pull it off carefully and enjoy the fun results!

fish printfish print 2fish print t-shirt

Giant Yard Paintings

Take your paintbrushes then tie them to sticks to make them extra long.  Unroll a huge piece of paper on the grass.  Let the kids be creative with the extra long paintbrushes or walking along making footprints on the paper.  Certain to be a fun, messy afternoon project!  To recycle the final product use the painting for wrapping paper all year-long!


Children’s Nature Book Reviews: “Nest” by Jorey Hurley

nestNature Book Review by Susan Olcott

Nest is a lovely picture book about the life cycle of a family of robins.  The book begins with the mother and father taking care of the egg and ends with the fledged baby meeting its own mate and taking care of a new egg.  She follows the seasons beautifully and simply with just a few words, which leaves children to their observation skills to look at what changes over time – the leaves, the spots on the young robin’s breast, the food they are searching for, for example.  Hurley includes the story of how she wrote the book for her daughters after observing a family of robins herself, which is fun to share with kids.  She also includes additional facts about robins, all of which is great information that isn’t too complicated. We recommend you try to check this out from your local library but here is a link to Amazon as well….NEST.

Optional Supplemental Activities – After reading this book consider looking at a real bird’s nest if you have one or go for a walk in the woods looking for old nests!

susan nest

Looking at real birds nest while reading the book can be very fun!

Another fun idea that we tried was we went outside and looked for nesting materials and then made nests out of paper bowls that we lined with yarn, sticks, and leaves using glue sticks.  This was EASY and A LOT of fun!

maya nest

Collecting Nest Building Materials

nest 2

Building the Nest!

nest craft molly nest

I also gave my kiddos plastic eggs with a candy peep inside to take care of for a week and then we had a hatching party.

Nature Families Rating:  5 out of 5 Acorns for simplicity and amazing illustrations!

Appropriate for All Ages but recommended for: Ages 3-7

Topics Related to This Book: Seasons, Life cycle, Nests, Birds

Let us know if you like this book and share your ideas with us on how you paired it with fun activities as well!

Art and Nature Project: Simple Any Time of Year Ice Suncatchers

–A Simple Project submitted by our Art and Nature Specialist: Janimarie DeRose

DSC05065Here is a fun idea you can do in the winter or use the freezer in the warmer months.  This activity can stimulate the senses and creates a beautiful, ephemeral end-product.  This activity can be fun with kids of all ages, is free, gets kids outside, takes very little planning, isn’t very messy and is just a lot of fun!

My daughters and I created some “ice tree sun-catchers” during a deep mid-January freeze.  It was a fun activity getting us out of the house to gather some rose hips, old sunflower heads, dried berries, and any little bits of nature’s finery we could spy.

After the outdoor collections we brought our bounty inside and carefully arranged them on plastic plates, though a tin pie plate or any container that can hold a shallow amount of water would work.  We also put a loop of string through the composition of natural materials, weighting it down with cones or heavier berries, with a large loop intended to stay out of the water/ice. This loop later becomes the hanger for the ice ornament.


We also had fun experimenting with food coloring…one drop goes a long way!

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We transferred the plates to the sub-freezing temps outside and filled them with a shallow covering of water.  If it is warm you can just put the plates in your freezer.

The next day we gently popped the ice out of the plates and hung our suncatchers.  The suncatchers were beautiful!

Inquiry Extension:  In summer it might be fun to hypothesis with kids how fast these would melt if you hung them in sun vs. shade or if you added different materials.  This could make the perfect foundation for a simple inquiry project where the students raise the questions and test their ideas.

Group Extension:  Corie Scribner, one of our other nature families writers, did this activity in winter with her kindergarten class and they hung them in a grove of trees and had a beautiful winter solstice celebration.

Literacy Connection:  The wonderful children’s book The Mitten written by Jan Brett shows pictures of these ice suncatchers in her illustrations.  This is a very common book that could be borrowed at  your local library for free.  It might be fun to read this book with your children when you do this project!

There are so many creative extensions that could be made with this project-have fun!Let us know if you try this activity and how it works for you!

char suncatcher suncatcher

“Growing Paperwhites”: A Winter Nature Journal Project

Project Created and Written by: Janimarie Lester DeRose


Using watercolor to capture the Paperwhites in the nature journal.

A few years ago I spent two winters in interior Alaska. For several months of deepest winter we had only four hours of a dusky-rose sky, and the rest of our days and nights were spent living by reflected starlight on the snow. I desperately missed growing green life. It was during this time that I developed a tradition of growing Paper Whites or Narcissus, and recording their growth through a watercolor field journal.


“Hope for a Bloom”

This is a perfect antidote to the long colorless scapes that fill our winter months, and a great activity to get your young ones and yourself to really observe the changes in growth carefully. Drawing what you observe, measuring the height with a ruler, and watering the living plant every few days really drives home the amazing metamorphosis taking place!

red pw

Full Bloom

Narcissus are a common bulb that you can find at most garden stores during the winter months. These flowers amazingly grow in even a small amount of sunlight, as long as you keep them amply supplied with water.

Place the bulbs in a small pot with only rocks and water for the roots to cling to.


Growing the Bulbs

The water should be kept at the base of the roots where they emerge from the bulb and no higher. If the water touches the bulb too much it will begin to decompose.

You will need to check the water every few days and more when they start to grow.

Give them a good two weeks in a sunny window (or a bit longer if you live with little light) before you will start seeing growth.

As they grow, measure, and sketch the plant at different stages of their growth and development.


A page from the author’s nature journal

Enjoy the process and have fun adding some life to your winter days!

full bloom (2)

The flowers in bloom!

“Painting A River That Connects Us Through the Seasons”:

A lesson in seeing color in Nature’s seasons, and painting with an analogous color scheme.

-Janimarie Lester DeRose


Painting the Summer Scene

I introduced the lesson by showing the children images of nature in the different seasons, focusing on the different colors present. They pointed out which color was dominant by squinting their eyes to look at the image. I then mixed the color wheel from the primary colors red, yellow, and blue, and we introduced the analogous colors…red/orange, red/purple, yellow/green, yellow/orange, blue/purple, blue/green.

We had nine preschool age children, but you could do this project with as little as four.

When you are ready to paint:

First, make sure to number the back of the canvases and place students names on the back.


Preparing the Canvases

Using Acrylics, paint your “river” connecting all the primed canvases, including wrapping over the edges of the canvas.

Let dry and apply a second coat for durability. (I like to keep the river graphically simple, with only one color to tie all the students work together in a cohesive manner.)

Assign each student a season and analogous color scheme for example:

Canvas one: Winter/ Blue and Purple paint

Canvas two: Spring/ Yellow and Green paint

Canvas Three: Summer/ Red and Purple paint

Canvas Four: Fall/ Orange and Yellow paint

Note: The reason to strictly stick with analogous colors is that many young painters mix the paints so much that they muddy the colors. Using analogous colors prevents the completely brown canvas! It’s also a great new vocab word and way to review the color wheel.


Painting with Analogous Colors

You will need to let all the students canvases dry and then touch up the blue river threading through the canvases.

Display as a complete collaborative piece. I like to have each student sign their canvas where it is visible to the viewer.

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Finished product

Later in the year, you could add collage images of the flora and fauna found in the local watershed. This would help stretch resources as canvases can be pricey!

Finding and Creating the ABC’s in Nature


Nature ABC”s

This lesson was created for my daughters’ Nature Preschool Class.  I wanted to introduce the alphabet in a way that connected the child’s body and many of their senses with nature.

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Truly “C”ing the Letters in Nature

First, I gave each child a foil letter that they carried with them and referenced to help them create the letter correctly.  Then the children looked for specific letters in the natural world around them.  After observing, we asked them to physically form the letter with natural materials of their choice.


“Making Letters Following the Template”

We photographed each letter, and later we printed out the alphabet and the children cut and pasted them into a book.  These books can be used to practice writing the letters or collaging images that start with the same letter.  We also printed a large copy and posted it on the wall of the classroom!  This could be a great Family Nature Club Activity for a multi-age group focused on early childhood up through around 7 years old.


Finding a “Y”!

Lesson Created and Written by: Janimarie Lester DeRose

Fall Lesson Idea: “The Leaf Man”

“The Leaf Man” Fall Lesson

Themes: This lesson explores fall leaves and encourages free exploration in the fall woods and gathering of leaves of different shapes and sizes.

Ages:It is a perfect multi-age lesson and can be enjoyed by children from age 1-10 or perhaps even older.

Location: Meet outside in the fall in a piece of woods that will have diversity of fall leaves and plants

Time: 45 min to 1.5 hours depending on how much free exploration time is provided


1.  Start by sitting in a circle and accessing prior knowledge by talking about what the kids already know about trees and leaves.

2.  Sing a fall leaf song

3.  Read the book Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert

Charlie Leafman

Reading the “Leafman”.

 4.  Each child then gets a large paper split into 6 squares with the part of the leafman they need to collect on a collection tray:

leafman setup

The Leafman design templates

5.  Then the children are free to explore the woods picking out what they want to represent each body part.

6.  They are then given glue and a new large paper and they assemble their Leafman.

charlie leafman building

Assembling the Leafman

7.  Everyone shares their creative designs together at the end.

Lucy and her leafman

An example of the final product

If time go for a hike and free play enjoying the Fall woods!

This fun lesson was designed by Corie Scribner and written by Olivia Griset