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Nature Fans

Age: 3 to 8+ Time: <30 min
Materials: Heavy paper (e.g file folder); double-sided tape; packing tape
Skills: Creativity, Naturalist, Sensory, Self Reliance
Although parents have to make calls about when hot is just too hot for kids, kids and adults alike are capable of contending with the heat more than we think. A little diversion goes a long way, and building and decorating a “nature fan” is just the thing kids need to feel in control of their own physical comfort and enjoy being both maker and master of a powerful tool—a functional fan. Searching for objects to adorn the fan, arranging the objects and designing the fan itself are all powerful creativity boosting tasks. Get them talking about their fan and their process, and you sneak in building communication skills and self esteem. It'll definitely make you glad you and your kiddos left the AC behind to brave the heat.

The Guide

  1. Prep the fans: Start by getting some heavy card stock. For example, cut manilla folders in half along the fold, then in half once again, each folder yielding four “fans.” Next, cut three slits (~1 inch each) in the bottom center of each piece, so you can weave a stick through the slits once outdoors. Remember to pack some strong tape (e.g. packing or duct tape) to help the stick stay in place. Finally, pack some double-sided tape (e.g. window insulation tape or poster mounting tape).
  2. Let kids find their stick and help them make a fan: Ownership starts with kids searching for a stick to make their fan. Help them pick sticks that aren't too heavy and are about 10 to 12 inches long. Weave the stick in between the slits in the cardboard and use the strong (packing) tape to attach the stick to one side of the card stock. Voila! They have their very own fan. Help kids test it out and appreciate its cooling effects. Ahhhhhhh. Then, add some double-sided tape to the front of the fan. Now, it’s time to decorate by sticking objects to the tape.
  3. Let them loose to decorate: The hunt for nature treasures may be the best part. Ask kids, especially those under 5, what kinds of objects will stick well and which won’t. Prompt a little planning by asking them to think about what kind of fan they are in the mood to make: camouflaged? colorful? simple? Then, send them off to search and stick treasures to their fan. For kids under 4, it may help to walk near them and hold onto the fan, allowing them to venture off to collect and return with things that you can help stick on.
  4. Regroup to discuss the fans: When kids are done, praise their efforts as you regroup to sit, relax, and enjoy the fruits (or breezes) of their labor. Ask open-ended questions about the fans, with prompts like, “Tell me about this fantastic fan,” “What is your favorite thing on this fan? Why?” or “Does the fan make you feel cooler? Why/how do you think it does that?” Anything that gets them talking and gives you the chance to show that you are genuinely interested in their creation is great!
  5. Add challenges: Try these fun twists to add a challenge and pump up the learning for kids who are ready.

  • Have kids identify a category of items for their search: Our favorite categories hones sensory skills (e.g. Objects that have either cool color, smell or texture; Use as many different greens as you can).
  • Turn it into an art project: With more double-sided tape, enough to cover most of the fan, kids can use the leaves, petals, berries, dirt, and anything else they find to make any kind of picture. Anything is possible, including faces, animals, designs, creatures, and words. Again, encourage them to imagine the picture before they start hunting and making to activate their imagination and planning skills.
  • Let them discover other ways to use the fans: Give them time and space to use the fans however they can imagine. Among other things, our kids have used them as pretend fishing poles, fly swatters, paddles for "leaf volley ball," swords, and flags.

Why is this activity great for kids?

Kids benefit from this activity in several ways, beyond being able to stay more focused after they get more comfortable in the heat. The pride they derive from making a nature fan "all by themselves" and the chance to take their comfort into their own hands builds self reliance, which is so hard to teach these days. Examining all the amazing sights, smells and textures in nature builds on their inherent curiosity and requires kids to use multiple senses carefully in the search for natural decorations. Putting the fan together and then imagining and trying out different ways to use their nature fans gives kids several ways to develop creativity. Whether or not you challenge kids to find a category of objects, all ages have to pay attention and stay focused on the task at hand as they hunt for objects and decorate their fans.

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