By Eric Duran
Here at the Nature Discovery Center, we’re all about doing fun and easy crafts with kids. We especially like nature-oriented crafts that families can do at home with little fuss, especially if it’s too cold or wet to spend much time outside comfortably. This month, I’m going to share three that are family favorites.
Pinecone birdfeeders are one of the more popular nature crafts that we do every winter with kids. The Loblolly Pine is a native pine tree that is abundant across Houston. It’s popular in landscaping near homes, business and in parks all over town. Throughout the winter, you can find the cones dropping to the ground. If you cannot find a wild pinecone though, it’s okay to purchase it. Just make sure that it is not scented — any of the oils and fragrances used to scent decorative pinecones may be toxic to birds and other animals.
To make a pinecone birdfeeder, tie a piece of yarn or sturdy string to the top of the cone. Using a butter knife or spoon, spread peanut butter all over the outside of the cone. You can also use another nut butter, if you have food allergies. (Crisco is fine, too, if but less desirable). Dump some good quality bird seed into a tub or large bowl. Take the pinecone, holding it by the string, and roll it around in the birdseed until the seed has stuck to all of the exposed peanut butter. You can now take it outside, and hang it from a nearby tree or bush, so that the birds can feed. It is possible that the squirrels will get to it first, but I never mind feeding the squirrels.
The next two art projects can be done with leaves from nearby trees and bushes. While early winter is the time when you find the leaves changing to all kinds of beautiful “fall colors” here in Texas, you can find decorative leaves throughout the winter here, and looking for leaves of various shapes and sizes is part of the fun.
To make a nice leaf collage you will need construction paper, card stock or mixed media paper. For this project, gathering leaves of different colors adds interest. You will want to use a common classroom style white glue and a pair of good scissors to cut off stems cleanly. One time, the project might involve making a collage of random shapes and abstract designs, and the next could be to make people and animals with the leaves. A good book to show youngsters before making the collage is Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert. It features some really creative collages for inspiration.
Leaf rubbings require white paper, such as notebook or printer paper, and the regular crayons that are part of your youngsters’ art supplies are just fine. You strip off the paper, and lay them down flat on their sides for the rubbings.
To make the rubbings, place a leaf under a sheet of white paper. Hold it down through the paper with one hand, and lightly rub the rubbing crayon/crayon cookie over the paper above the leaf. You may have to practice with how hard to press down the crayon to get the best looking results. Some of the kids here at the Center like to overlap different leaves, or make studies of individual leaves, make designs, or just do a crazy mix up of colors and shapes. You can play around with a bunch of different styles.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this departure from the normal natural history articles. Hopefully, you found it useful, or got a new idea for a fun activity to do at home with your kids. If you have any questions about any of these, or need some other craft ideas, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Duran is the head naturalist at the Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Newcastle Dr., Bellaire, NatureDiscoveryCenter.org, 713-667-6550.
CRAYON ‘COOKIE’ RECIPE
Here at the Nature Center, we take little broken crayon nubs and make “crayon cookies.” You can make them by stripping off the paper, putting the crayon pieces of the same color in foil or wax lined muffin cups, or silicone cookie or candy molds. Keeping a close eye on their progress, put them in the oven at 300 degrees until they completely melt into one “cookie” shape — usually about 10-15 minutes. Pull them out of the oven when they look ready, and let them cool down for another 15-20 minutes. Then pop them into fridge or freezer for an hour or two to completely cool down and solidify. They’ll work best if you give them an hour or so to get to room temperature before using.