With screens occupying a significant portion of our lives, it’s crucial to carve out time to engage in activities that foster an appreciation for the natural world. One delightful and engaging way to achieve this is through creating nature critters with children. Nature crafts provide a perfect opportunity for young minds to explore their creativity while fostering a deep connection with the environment. By gathering materials from the great outdoors, children can transform ordinary objects into whimsical creatures, igniting their imagination and developing a sense of wonder. 

Today, Tennessee mom and photographer Somer Pickel dives into the magical world of nature crafts, specifically focusing on creating nature critters with children. She explores the various materials that can be gathered from nature and transformed into unique creatures, as well as the benefits that come from engaging in these crafts together. As parents, we play an essential role in encouraging and participating in these activities, as they offer numerous benefits that extend far beyond the finished product.

Crafting with kids using found natural materials

On being “not crafty”

Is it alright to start a “crafting nature critters with kids” blog post, saying that I really truly don’t like crafting with kids?

I know, I know…as moms, we’re supposed to love doing all things crafty with our children. And let me tell you, I’ve tried. But at some point, it’s better to just accept the obvious truth. And in this scenario, it’s that I am not a crafty mama. 

I can’t stand bits of paper all over the place. Finding stickers stuck to anything other than paper annoys me to no end. Don’t even get me started on glitter, slime, or Play-Doh. No. 

But believe it or not, I’ve finally found a craft I can get behind – nature critters. Making nature critters together has just the right amount of crafting, creativity and outdoor time for both me and my kid. I get to have her outside exploring a nature-filled environment, including looking for small, minute details. She gets to use a hot glue gun. So basically, it’s a win-win.

Getting beyond the mess when crafting with kids

I know I’ve already voiced my displeasure about crafting with kids. And yeah, a lot of my displeasure is due to the concerted effort that’s needed in the setup and the patience involved during the actual craft. But, it’s also partially because crafting always seems to be so expensive. Then to add insult to injury, there’s the aftermath. After your kiddo loses interest, you’re stuck cleaning up Elmer’s glue from your kitchen table or picking Play-Doh out of your dog’s hair. Then you have to find someplace to put all kinds of crafting leftovers and supplies. 

And don’t get me wrong, I know that crafting is some folks’ cup of tea. There are people who love it so much they have entire rooms in their homes dedicated to the wonders of all things crafting! As I am sure you all can guess by now, that’s just not me. But also, I highly doubt they live with the constant tornadic activity that is a pre-schooler. My kid could thoroughly destroy even the most organized of craft rooms in under 5 minutes. 

Benefits of crafting with kids

However, there are some really great benefits of crafting with kids that I really appreciate, and go far beyond the finished piece of artwork and mess left behind. Crafting stimulates and enhances children’s creativity, allowing them to explore their imaginations and express themselves freely. It encourages problem-solving skills as they navigate through different materials and find innovative ways to bring their ideas to life. And doing craft projects with kids also promotes fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, as children manipulate and handle various tools and materials.

Moreover, crafting provides an opportunity for children (and their parents!) to develop patience, perseverance, and the ability to follow instructions, as they learn to complete tasks step-by-step.  Doing crafts together and making art fosters self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment as children witness their creations taking shape, boosting their confidence and pride in their abilities. 

Somer Pickel Crafting with kids using found natural materials

If you’re a fellow hater of all things glitter, nature critter crafting may be just up your alley!

Tips for moms that hate crafting

For moms who find crafting with kids challenging (or frustrating, or just plain awful), there are several tips and strategies that can help make the experience more enjoyable, less messy, and less frustrating. Here are some suggestions to consider:

  1. Simplify the projects – Start with simple and age-appropriate craft projects that require minimal supplies and have straightforward instructions. This will help reduce the complexity and frustration for both you and your child.
  2. Choose low-mess materials –  Opt for crafts that involve materials that are easy to clean up, such as washable markers, colored pencils, or pre-cut stickers. Avoid projects that involve excessive glue, glitter, or paint unless you’re prepared for a potential mess.
  3. Incorporate what you like –  Maybe you hate paint, but you don’t mind markers. If stickers seem wasteful, maybe consider stamps. Maybe you’re like me and don’t mind crafts that incorporate natural elements and cute creatures. Figure out (and embrace) what you like about crafting (or at least don’t hate or can tolerate) and use those materials. Cut out anything that’s too stressful, messy, or overwhelming. 
  4. Set up a dedicated crafting space – Designate a specific area in your home (or outside it) for crafting activities. Cover the surface with an old tablecloth or use a plastic tablecloth that can be easily wiped clean. Having a dedicated space will make it easier to contain the mess and keep things organized.
  5. Embrace imperfection – Remember that the process of crafting with kids is more important than the final product. Embrace imperfections and allow your child’s creativity to shine, even if things don’t turn out as expected. Let go of the need for perfection and focus on enjoying the experience together.
  6. Incorporate storytelling or music – Make the crafting experience more engaging by incorporating storytelling or playing background music. This can create a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere, making the process more enjoyable for both you and your child.
  7. Take breaks and keep it short – Recognize when you or your child might be getting tired or frustrated and take breaks as needed. Keeping craft sessions short and focused can help maintain enthusiasm and prevent burnout.
  8. Don’t be too hard on yourself – Remember that not all moms are naturally inclined towards crafting, and that’s perfectly okay. It’s more important to focus on spending quality time with your child and finding activities that bring joy to both of you. Embrace your strengths as a mom and explore other ways to bond and connect with your child that align with your interests and passions.

Crafting nature critters

Embracing what I like about crafts (natural elements, cute creatures, and spending time outside with my daughter) led us to try making nature critters. Basically, nature critters are essentially anything your kid wants them to be – they’re not necessarily real animals, but maybe based on a real animal with some creative elements incorporated.

While I personally like to make them look more like animals, they don’t always end up looking like the one I envisioned when I started. For instance, when I tried to make a porcupine, I ended up making what looked like a turkey. My bird turned into a fish. And so on. Oh well.

My kid, on the other hand, is very imaginative and typically steers toward open-ended toys. So, I guess it’s no real surprise that she seems to like the more abstract-looking critters (cat-monkey!). When it comes down to it, the jest is they’re “critters” made out of any found natural materials and hot glue. 

Somer Pickel Crafting with kids using found natural materials

When crafting nature critters, they really can be whatever you want them to be. Or if you’re anything like me, whatever they turn out looking like when you’re trying to make something else. 🙃

How to prepare for crafting nature critters with your kid(s)

  • Have a glue gun with a few sticks of glue.
  • Find a mesh baggie to hold the materials you find. Why mesh? We learned the hard way with this little detail. We brought home a few bug “friends” the first time we made nature critters. If this isn’t an issue for you, by all means, use whatever sort of bag you want. 
  • Set aside an hour or so to spend outside looking for critter-making materials. Your natural materials can be any of the following items (or whatever you can find in your area): leaves, pinecones, flowers, shells, berries, sticks, moss, grass, bark, acorns, twigs, pebbles, etc. (see below for more ideas)
  • Have an outdoor space with an outlet where you can plug in your hot glue gun. Why outdoor? Well, it’s just another precaution, given the likelihood of tag-along bug friends. 
  • Pour yourself a hot cup of coffee or whatever your preferred means of caffeination and ready yourself to provide excessive patience. 
Crafting with kids using found natural materials

When your child is out looking for materials to craft with, they slow down. They take more in and they find purpose in the search.

Safety note

Some hot glue guns probably get hot enough to cause actual burns. Ours is a fairly cheap one that doesn’t get very hot. Even so, my four-year-old was supervised the entire time she used the tool. I also noticed that since she perceived it to be “dangerous,” she took more care with it than I believe she otherwise would have. She was much slower, more deliberate, and controlled with the hot glue gun than she ever is with her typical school glue. This could be purely coincidental, but I don’t think it is. I feel like it tracks with the idea that kids’ capacity to learn increases when a bit of risk is involved. But back to the nature critters…

Crafting nature critters with kids

Typically when children perceive a task as risky, they slow down and focus on what they are doing. In turn, they tap into deeper learning and understanding.

Why natural materials for crafting nature critters

Could you use more than just natural elements when making nature critters? Of course! If you want to break out the googly eyes, pom poms, pipe cleaners, and crafting supplies, go for it! However, we prefer to only use what we find in the yard or on a trail. I feel like this gives the critters a bit more personality and makes the whole activity more challenging and creative.

Plus, it really forces me and my child to slow down and pay closer attention to our environment than we otherwise would. On our most recent critter supply run, my kiddo found two good-sized Appalachian forest snails. They were so camouflaged that I had stepped right past them. My kiddo was so thrilled to have found what my eyes had missed, that she spent the rest of the hike talking about her superhero vision. 

Crafting Nature Critters with kids

I love watching my child slow down and really take in the world around her. This craft has been a fun way for us both to engage more deeply with the natural world and each other.

What materials to collect for crafting nature critters

Honestly, these are your critters, so collect whatever suits your fancy!

Everywhere you go will have different things available. We live in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, so we have an abundance of deciduous and coniferous trees growing in our area. This gives us access to lots of pinecones, needles, pebbles, moss, bark, etc.

But, last week, we were in southwestern Florida. While there, we found loads of shells, fish bones, sand, driftwood, and other treasures on the beaches every morning. I am sure desert environments would have their own brand of wonderful nature treasure finds that would lend to excellent critters too. Just use whatever you find around.

Personally, I’ve found coniferous cones, large and small, make great bases for critter heads and bodies. Acorns are fantastic for heads and hats. Sticks and twigs make great limbs. Other things we have used include leaves, bark, moss, seeds and seed pods, flowers, rocks, and grass.

But really, just collect whatever catches your eye. The good thing is, you can just toss whatever you don’t use into the bushes or compost pile after craft time is over. Or at least that’s what we do. 

Crafting nature critters with kids

Nature critters can be made into all sorts of concrete or abstract creations with a bit of creativity and luck! (This is supposed to be a deer of some sort.)

Crafting nature critters with kids

Sometimes the critters may just turn out well enough and sturdy enough to be toys! Other times they fall apart if you even try to move them. Either is fine, because, in the end, it was all about the process.

Nature art inspiration

So I’m not deluded enough to believe our crafting to ever grow into something truly outstanding. We are in it for the experience and the fun of creating. However, there are folks out there creating truly inspiring art out of totally found natural materials. One of them is David Bird. He started his career as a Lego toy designer, and that later moved into creating adorable little critters he lovingly refers to as Becorns. Do yourself a favor and check out his work. And, I also love the nature art created by Sisten Golden (@sistergoldenshop) on Instagram. Both artists create such a beautiful blend of photography, naturalism, and art! They demonstrate what is possible with time, creativity, and a passion for the world around us. 

Crafting with kids using found natural materials

Side note: my kid finds value in expressing her independence— including dressing herself. I find value in my own sanity more than her wearing socially appropriate outfits.

Embrace the mess

While the mess and challenges of crafting with kids may seem daunting, it’s essential to embrace the chaos and immerse ourselves in the joy and wonder of creating with our children. Making nature critters together not only allows us to tap into their boundless creativity but also offers a unique opportunity to bond with our children, both inside and outside. By engaging in these activities, we can foster a deep connection with nature, instill a sense of environmental consciousness, and nurture our children’s development holistically.

So, let’s embrace the mess, seize the chance to explore the great outdoors, and create cherished memories as we embark on this creative journey with our little ones. After all, the mess will fade away, but the moments shared, and the love nurtured will endure forever.

More nature crafts (that you may not hate)

Never fear, non-crafty mamas; we have a few nature-inspired crafts and activities that you may not hate! All of these involve spending time outside (in nature) with your kids and can be done with less mess than regular crafting. 

 Do you enjoy crafting with kids?
What sort of nature critters will you make?

About the author

Somer is a mama living in southern Appalachia. Somer’s motherhood journey began when her oldest daughter (Avelyn) was born with severe congenital heart disease. Avelyn spent the majority of her 18 months of life in a pediatric ICU. Though she lived her life chronically critically ill, Avie was an incredibly loving and joyous child. After her death, Somer and her husband sought solace backpacking a section of the Appalachian Trail. Before long, they discovered their ability to cope seemed to correspond with time spent outdoors.

When it came time to add another kiddo to the mix, bringing the baby along was never a question. In an effort to celebrate the freedom provided by healthy bodies, Somer has hiked her second-born 2k+ miles. Even so, she doesn’t believe grand adventures are necessary to reap nature’s wonder. They just as often revel in mundane evenings in their backyard. The family believes it’s prioritizing time spent outdoors that’s important.

Professionally, Somer has spent the last decade caring for veterans in an acute psychiatric unit as a clinical nurse educator. Over the years, she’s become a passionate advocate for the intersectional relationships of mental health, wellness, and the natural world. She truly believes there’s healing and strength to be found outdoors for those who seek it.

You can find Somer online in the following locations:
Instagram: @somerpickel
RWMC posts: Somer Pickel
Podcast episode: Overcoming Grief Outdoors