12 amazing autumn nature crafts

Wow, you guys love a good nature exchange! Over 100 enthusiastic participants signed to trade natural finds with a partner, from school groups to families to individuals! I sent out emails last week assigning everyone an exchange pal. (If you think you signed up and haven’t received a message from me assigning you a partner, please send me an email at rainydayriotblog@gmail.com and let me know.)

So for all those who love to collect and receive Mother Nature’s goodies, I put together this little round-up of different ways to explore and create with natural items.  Whether you’re gathering on your own or trading with a partner in the nature exchange, these are some great ways to have the fullest experience with your natural finds! Just a reminder, if you are using items you’ve received in the nature exchange, please keep your exploration indoors so you don’t accidentally introduce invasive species into your environment.

When we come home with treasures from a nature walk, I usually begin by just setting them out for open exploration. This can be something as simple as a large platter or tray to spread the items out on, or you can make a whole nature table with them, like this wonderful one from The Imagination Tree.

After examining and enjoying the items, sometimes they find their way to a bowl on the coffee table or a centerpiece. But this indoor land art project from Smiling Like Sunshine looks like more fun:

Another way to enjoy natural items is to create a small world box with them. Any semi-enclosed space can work for this kind of project. In this post on Create with your Hands, our old favorite, the cardboard box, does the trick. With natural items combined with small animal figures or dolls, kids can make a whole little world of their own.

After plenty of time to enjoy the sensory, and tactile experience of nature finds, you can make them into something to decorate your space. I wish I could find the original source for these simple but beautiful hanging decorations. It looks like some twine and a large stick are all you need to make them – and maybe a dab of hot glue here and there for the more slippery-shaped objects.

Here’s another way of making a hanging decoration out of nature stuff – this adorable mobile from Red Ted Art. Bonus: this one actually has instructions!

For the slightly more ambitious, here’s a really cool wreath project from Fun at Home with Kids, with, once again, cardboard and nature things as the main materials.

And it wouldn’t be a 2010s craft round-up without a garland, would it? I’ve been admiring this one on pinterest for a while, but it turns out it’s another one of those untraceable images seems to exists nowhere but pinterest and a bunch of Eastern European home decor image collection blogs. Still, this one looks super easy to create too, just yarn and your favorite nature and seasonal items.

Another way to create with natural items is to paint them. Colorful acorns are another ubiquitous pinterest thing, but these ones from Home Stories A to Z are just so cute, and you could do the same idea with many other nuts, seeds, or stones.

I also love these acorn cap jewels from Kiwi Crate. So pretty, and easy enough for kids to do it all themselves, with nothing more than markers, white glue, and playdough.

It’s also fun to make something entirely else out of natural items. I love Krokotak’s little snails made from buckeyes (as we call them in the midwest).

And if you have some wool roving and wooden beads, you can make these cute little pinecone fairies from a tutorial on Willodel.

Or these squee-worthy milkweed pod babies from Kleas, another terrific project that even a preschooler can make.

And these are just a starting point – the stuff we gathered last fall, and even things we received two years ago in another nature exchange are still floating around my house, decorating candleholders, serving as hideouts for playmobile people, taking on their own lives in a made up game with rocks and bits of yarn. Here’s hoping your fall nature finds bring you months of enjoyment!

making fairy houses

fairy cabin and garden

We love fairy houses. After seeing dozens of amazing fairy houses last fall at the Grafton Nature Museum, the kids and I built the above one in our yard last fall and they insisted we also “plant” a garden in front for the fairies. It’s just a bunch of sticks and rocks balanced together but amazingly it is still standing, eight and a half months and 50 bajillion snowstorms and melts later.

More ephemeral was the fairy campout we created to lure fairies to our yard last year on Midsummer’s Eve. I started by pushing four sticks into the ground and the kids turned it into a bed by filling it in with plant fluff (I don’t even know what to call it, these weird flower skeleton things that grow on a shrub in our yard) and placing a maple leaf on top for a canopy. They added a picnic table with acorn caps filled with fairy pudding (squashed yew berries), a bathtub, and a bark dance floor. Sounds like my kind of campout.fairy bed

It’s nearly Midsummer’s Eve again, and when I saw the cute toilet paper roll houses on this woodland folk craft at Tried and True, I knew the littles would love it.

Besides all things fairy house, my kids love making stuff out of toilet paper tubes, so this was sure to be a double win. I cut out a couple of circles, slit halfway and folded over to make the cone-shaped roofs, and hot-glued them onto the toilet paper rolls. The five year-old insisted he need a door that could open and close so he cut that one out himself, while I helped my three year-old do the other one.Image

OK, progressing along, now to gather the decorative materials. I told the kids to go outside and get some buckets to collect sticks and pebbles and stuff. At this point my older child said he needed to make a boat for his fairies. Rolling with it, I stapled the end of one toilet roll shut, cut off half the tube lengthwise, and taped a little semicircle in the back to make a boat shape. Then he insisted it needed to be waterproof so he could sail it in the sand and water table (which the kids finally evacuated of the birdseed garden last weekend). Hmm. My best attempt at waterproofing was to coat it in duck tape. Then he needed it to be a pirate ship, so we made a sail with a toothpick and more tape. The finished boat was deemed too plain, so he spent 25 minutes decorating it with washi tape. The newly adorned vessel was taken immediately for her maiden voyage. By now, two things were obvious: 1) She was not at all seaworthy and 2) it was past lunchtime, and we were going to have to wait until the following morning to finish the fairy house craft.

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I’d say 70% of mama-initiated crafts end up going sideways like this around here. Which is why I have 85 thousand awesome pinterest things but only very occasionally actually execute one of them. But I am really good at collecting amazing projects to think about maybe possibly doing one day perhaps.

Anyhow, the next morning I sent them out to collect things to decorate the fairy houses and this is what they came back with:

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a bunch of sticks and twigs which I trimmed into fairy house-sized pieces, a little heap of strings of brown flowers from our oak tree, leaves at various stages of dried out-ness, acorn caps, pebbles, and pinecones, the largest of which we tore apart to make fairy shingles.

I let my five year-old use the hot glue gun to stick the items onto his toilet paper roll house. Some people might think this reckless but hey, if it’s good enough for Teacher Tom, it’s good enough for me. If you don’t know Teacher Tom, you should go over there and subscribe or follow or whatever to his blog right now. He is an awesome preschool teacher in, I think, Seattle, and he makes this blog full of wisdom about teaching and learning with young children. He’s like a guru of early childhood education.

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The five year-old loved being allowed to use the glue gun himself, and sticking the items onto his house base. Incidentally, I noticed in that Tried and True post that not only does she have the exact same hot pink glue gun as I do, but hers is just as gross and ratty looking as mine is. That makes me feel slightly better about showing it on the internet.

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I have to say, these little cottages turned out pretty rad.

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I helped my three year old with the glueing, but she selected the materials and directed me on placement, so this design is all her:Image

When the fairy houses were complete, my son instructed me to take a picture where it looks like he and his sister are fairies going into their houses. I’m afraid this was the best I could do with a point-n-shoot, but I like that he’s already hip to trick photography and the manipulation of images. Chalk that one up to having a photographer for a father.Image

We tucked the fairy houses into a woodsy nook on one side of our yard, where our fairy cabin sits. We’re getting a regular Hendrickson family compound of fairy houses over there… I guess they’ll be sure to do a campout in our yard this year!Image

That’s right, I just made a reference to a TV show about polygamy and the abuses of crazy fundamentalist Mormons in a post about my children’s sweet innocent fairy houses. That’s how we roll here, folks.