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Nature Curtain

Age: 0 to 8+ Time: 1 hour+
Materials: twine
Skills: Creativity, Behavioral Schema, Fine Motor, Self Esteem

Entertaining a group of kids of varying ages can feel intimidating. Such was our challenge one weekend in the mountains with friends, our collective broods ranging from 1 to 8 years old. But as it turned out, all we had to do was string up a long stretch of twine between two trees, then give each kid their own piece of twine and to a variety of nature treasures (e.g. sticks, flowers, greens, rocks, etc). Over an entire day, kids collected, selected and arranged objects, decorating his/her own strand of twine that, once all hung from the long stretch, become our nature curtain. The 1-year-old? She had a blast playing with (and taste testing) the rocks at the base of the curtain while watching her elders create.

As the weekend went on, the curtain remained a focal point of play, morphing into a stage for plays and talent shows and then, eventually a demolition site. Since that time in the mountains, we have made many a nature curtain. The making has run from an hour to over the course of a few days. Each curtain is unique and is put to different uses that reflect the kids' interests and imagination. We are never disappointed by how lovely they actually look and how much kids get into making and, often, playing with them.

The Guide

  1. Hang the empty curtain: To start a curtain, string up one long piece of twine between two trees or along a wall. Next, cut plenty of 2-yard pieces of twine and tie them to the long piece. Then, have kids find a series of heavy objects (e.g. rock or thick sticks). Help them as needed as they tie one heavy object to the bottom end of each 2-yard piece.
  2. Adding treasure: To add leaves, flowers, rocks, sticks, seeds and other treasures, kids just un-twist a section of twine, tuck an object between the threads, then let it tighten back up again as it hangs down (weighted down by the heavy object). After a quick demo on how to stick objects into the twine, the kids take off collecting, arranging and adding treasures to their own strands of the nature curtain. Model this once or twice for kids ages 3 and up, and they should be able to do it on their own. Kids under 3 will likely need ongoing help to attach objects. Some kids get completely absorbed while others hop in and out of the activity. Some strands are artful, others became collections of favorite items.
  3. Model: If you make your own strand alongside the kids, you can provide a model for how to thoughtfully arrange items without interfering with kids' independent work and expression. Plus, it's pretty zen. We never get to do stuff like this Monday to Friday!
  4. Add some math: Nature curtains are actually a great to expose kids to patterns. Model making a pattern on your own strand, varying the pattern for different age groups. Kids in preschool can typically make a pattern with two different objects. Add even more complexity by adding more objects and varying how you repeat the objects you repeat.
  5. Admire and share: Once the curtain is made, take time to admire it and honor the unique choices and designs that each child contributed. Somehow, nature curtains all end up looking beautiful when all is said and done.
  6. Let them play with it: Let curtain and kids hang together. Watch them go back to it. Depending on their age and vibe, kids may enjoy shaking or knocking things out. For kids 4 and older, the curtain may inspire some pretty fabulous pretending.

Why is this activity great for kids?

Martha Stewart has nothing on Mother Nature. Truly, nature redecorates for her guests each day, changing up colors, objects and textures. But, busy as we are, it’s easy to miss nature’s unparalleled exterior design. A nature curtain allows you to find and look more closely at nature's amazing objects and sense the magic. For kids ages 18 months to about 5 or 6, making a nature curtain also supports the development of three behavioral schema: connecting, trajectory and transporting. A nature curtain can also be the jumping off point for rich imaginative play. Make a curtain, and you can turn a small corner of the outdoors into a fort, a stage, a fairy house or even a doorway into another magical world. Likewise, nature curtains can also be a way for kids (ages 3 and up) to practice with patterns. Math students who have played with and explored patterns as young children typically have a stronger sense of numbers and functions that can help make learning higher level math easier and more enjoyable. Finally, a nature curtain is, by design, something kids of different ages and abilities can do and something that reflects their own interests and sense of design, no matter how basic. So, if you ask about their contribution and demonstrate interest, you can stoke the fires of self esteem.

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We think all families should be learning outside. Try this activity with your child and begin to see the power in outdoor, play-based learning. Have fun!

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