Arboretum News

Kids Activity: Our Favorite Resources for Nature Play

Browse our favorite blogs and books to find inspiration for hands-on, nature play activities

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Photo courtesy of Fairy Dust Teaching.

By Reba Luiken, Arboretum coordinator of informal interpretation

Sometimes it seems impossible to come up with one more good idea for things that might keep kids busy, learning and interested. So, like any good Girl Scout, I like to “use resources wisely” and turn to some other experts who have lots of inspiring ideas!  Here are some of my favorites: 

Invitation to Grow Sabzeh from TinkerWonderPlay. Photo courtesy of

TinkerWonderPlay (website)

Yasmeen Kamrani Sallam blogs about play starts and invitations for the youngest learners at TinkerWonderPlay and on Instagram. For my work at the Arboretum, I especially love the ideas that include nature-based materials, but Yasmeen also brings her perspective as a person of color to her ideas, which include many authors, artists, and holidays that are new to me. Here’s a recent post about seed sprouting for Persian New Year.

DIY Water Wall. Photo courtesy of

TinkerLab (book & website)

Rachelle Doorley shares ways for young children to tinker, play, and invent on her website and in her books with the philosophy that children learn best by playing. From sensory play to engineering challenges, there are so many fun options to spark inquiry and exploration. My favorite part of her book is the list of basic and advanced tinker supplies to have on hand in categories like art, science and engineering. You can also check out an ebook of TinkerLab from your local library for free in the Twin Cities. On her website, you might check out this post about making a DIY water wall for outdoor fun in warmer weather.

DIY Bird Nests from Art Bar Blog. Photo courtesy of

Art Bar Blog (website)

Barbara Rucci has tons of inventive ideas for encouraging kids to be creative thinkers and use their imaginations. There are no prepackaged crafts here. Instead there’s plenty of inspiration for getting kids excited about making art and exploring materials from clay to paper to ice. Maybe your little learners might like making their own birds nest from recycled paper or painting pine cones

Photo from Wonder Art Workshop. Photo courtesy of Fairy Dust Teaching.

Wonder Art Workshop (book)

Sally Haughey offers lots of great art ideas for little learners, but she also lays out a really helpful perspective in her book. Here are some tips:

1. Let children explore their materials. They might feel, mix, or engage in a way you did not expect or intend, but that is all part of the process. 

2. Don’t step in and do it for the child. A small dab of glue might be how you would do it as an adult, but let children make glue puddles if that’s their approach.

3. Follow the verb. Look for children’s interests closely. Go deeper than just “painting” but notice if the child is feeling the paint, mixing colors or trying different brushes. This will help you think about what comes next. 

One fun activity from Wonder Art Workshop I’d love to try is “The Disappearing Snake” where children make a clay snake and check back on it in the garden, watching it weather away over time. 

Of course, these are just a few of the many, many resources available in books and on blogs, Instagram, and Pinterest. Do you have any favorites to share? 

1 comment on “Kids Activity: Our Favorite Resources for Nature Play

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