by Nicole Sadlier, Sticks & Stones Nature Playgroup

There’s three things I think about a lot these days: kids, nature and crafty play. Every fallen branch, bursting blossom bud, rock, etc that catches my eye gets considered with these three things in mind.

Collecting is part of who I am and little mementos of nature from walks and holidays surround me. However, this collecting has become a little more serious (dare I say, obsessive) of late. I’ve found myself making detours to visit the recently in bloom wattle, taking mental notes of where the best fallen branches of gum nuts lie, and feeling quite blissful that nature is so abundant in free craft and sensory supplies.

When Sticks and Stones playgroup kicked off in March 2017, the activities were all about getting outside, but the craft was still fairly standard. As the months have passed, more thought has gone into how to make craft an extension of nature. And, once you start down this path you see alternatives everywhere, and it’s really

Here are some simple ideas if you’re keen to give your craft supplies a makeover ‘nature style’:

Make clay paints There’s no doubt kids love painting with all the colours of the rainbow. I’ve found they love awesome earthy tones too from subtle pinks, terracottas, yellows, whites, greys and chocolatey browns. Grab some pottery clay samples (from pottery supply specialists and art and craft suppliers), pop a small piece of clay in a bowl, slowly add water and stir, mush and squish until the clay is the consistency you would like (kids love helping with this part too!). Try painting with both thick and thin clay mixes and see what results you get.

Create your own paintbrushes Nature is full of great raw materials just waiting to be made into paintbrushes. Bundle up pine needles with elastic bands or twine, use the flower heads of daisies or grasses, smash up the tip of a fibrous branch, or use the end of a stick for dot painting. The last idea is also a great opportunity to pick up some books on Aboriginal art from the library and extend the learning.

Swap your play dough for clay The same clay that you can use for clay paints makes a fab alternative to play dough. Clay is a totally different textural experience than play dough too. Play dough is generally a fairly uniform consistency (unless it’s full of dry bits from being unloved), whereas each clay has different characteristics such as smooth, silky, gritty, and sticky – and when water is added the feel changes again.

Try nature sprinkles instead of glitter Try dyeing rice or sand with food colouring (then drying), or use dried flower petals or sawdust. Ok, you won’t get the shimmery effect that glitter gives, but you’re kids will love sprinkling all of these great natural materials over glue.

Reach for a different kind of canvas Kids normally paint and craft on paper, but think outside the square – what’s in the local park? How about a big piece of bark? Gum leaves? Sticks? Rocks? An old sheet that’s destined to be tossed away? Or take your clay paints and paint a tree artwork for the neighbourhood to enjoy, and when the rain comes it will be washed away.

Punch out dots and shapes for sticking Grab a funky leaf (even an ordinary one will do) and a hole punch or decorative craft punch and snap out a pile of shapes to glue onto your next artistic creation. How easy is that!

Mix your own glue Flour and water make a good glue for temporary craft projects, and if it ends up in your little one’s mouth – oh well, at least it’s natural. Also the glue making becomes another play experience.

Hope you and your kids have lots of fun exploring nature, collecting outdoors and getting crafty.

To connect with other families who are interested in exploring nature play and the outdoors, here are some options:

  • Join our Sticks & Stones Nature Playgroup at Cook on Thursday mornings
  • Speak with the coordinator of Sticks & Stones about starting a nature themed program at your current playgroup
  • Visit and ‘Like’ our Sticks & Stones Facebook page (Sticks.Stones.Nature Play)
  • Email with your questions