Pet rocks aside, there is plenty in the natural world to bring out our creativity

I always thought my grandma invented pet rocks. First of all, my Grandma Barry (both my grandmothers were named Mary, so I differentiated them by using their last names) was one of the most crafty, talented, creative people I have ever known. She made all of her own clothes, painted all of the pictures in her house (and many of those in countless relatives’ homes), created all of her own Christmas decorations and crocheted enough blankets to warm all of California. She also made incredible, intricately painted, rock animals.


(Photo from Pinterest)

These rock animals were my first exposure to nature crafts, and I loved them. I loved how she could take found rocks of all different shapes and make them into everything from bunnies to dogs and turtles. Each one was completely unique, and I was always amazed at how she would use the individual rock characteristics, like bumps and divots, to accentuate an eye or be part of the foot. She could see much more potential in rocks than I ever thought possible.

Somehow my grandmother’s creativity did not get passed along to me, but her love of using the natural world did. So I take every opportunity possible to take my daughters outside and use what is around us, both as a teaching tool, and to express their creativity.

Now that the newness of summer vacation is waning, I am sure that many parents, like me, are being constantly bombarded with statements that contain the phrase, “I’m bored.” To combat the “I’m boreds” I have created a list of easy to do activities that involve taking kids (gasp!) outside.

1. Rainbow Walk – as soon as my oldest daughter learned the “Rainbow” song from a Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That episode, we were off outside to look for red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and purple colors in nature. Here is a hint: if you have a hard time with blue (we seemed to) use the sky.

2. Pine cone bird feeders – I am super impressed that my daughter can actually pick out a chickadee, tufted titmouse and mourning dove just by their songs, as well as many other birds by sight at our feeders. Her favorite feeder is the one she made at Reforest the Bluegrass a few years ago where she took a pinecone, spread it with peanut butter and rolled in black oil sunflower seeds. We have actually used the same pinecone multiple times.

3. Magnifying glass – Everything is much cooler with a magnifying glass. This is true inside and outside, but a good close-up view can make your whole perspective on the natural world change.

4. One small square – There is book series called One Small Square, and the concept presented in the books is great. Take a cardboard box and cut out the middle from one side to make a frame. Place the frame on the ground and see what you can find. This is just as amazing if you do it on a manicured lawn, a driveway or in a forest. Comparing and contrasting different “habitats” can also be a fun way to get ready for school.

5. Texture rubbings – Place leaves, flowers, sand, etc, under a piece of blank paper and rub with a crayon. If you feel extra crafty, cut the textured shapes out and make people, collages and other art for a gallery show for friends/relatives.

6. Under things – This is actually one of my favorites, which has somehow been lost on my oldest daughter, but I will mention it anyway. Lots of critters – everything from roly poly bugs to salamanders like to live under rocks, logs and even the toy car your children forgot to put away last weekend. I like to try to guess what we can find.

7. Listen – Since school is quickly approaching, I have been trying to get my daughter interested in writing and reading again. We sat outside last weekend with a book and a commitment to three minutes of silence. During that time we recorded everything we heard which was an amazing array of sounds!

There are multiple books written recently explaining the benefits of getting kids outside (most notably Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louve), and as an environmental educator, I agree. I want to make sure that my fellow parents understand that nature is all around us, not just in a park or a faraway forest. If you live in a urban center, the suburbs or in a rural area, taking your children out of the house and away from couches can do amazing things.

All of the things I have listed can be done in a park or a parking lot and are very low-cost. They will allow you and your child to learn what you have in your backyard and possibly grow to appreciate it more. If you want to get even more creative and crafty, there are seemingly millions of ideas on Pinterest or the Internet, and don’t forget making pets out of the rocks you find on your nature adventures!


Amy Sohner is executive director of Greensource and a graduate of the University of Kentucky in Natural Resource Conservation and Management. Sohner has worked with Greensource since its inception in 2002 and is a Certified Environmental Educator. She is involved with the Kentucky Environmental Literacy Alliance, the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance, the Licking and Kentucky River Basin Teams, and serves as vice-chair of the Keep Lexington Beautiful Commission. Sohner lives near the Kentucky River palisades with her husband, two daughters and a multitude of pets.

This article appeared in KY Forward on July 25, 2013.

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