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Nature Ornaments

Age: 3 to 8+ Time: 1 hour+
Materials: paint, brushes, bindle or sack
Skills: Creativity, Fine Motor, Sensory

It should be no surprise how quickly the holidays go commercial for our little friends. They are urged on by casual chatter about gifts, reminders that they "better watch out" (for some, enhanced by a squealing elf or mensch on bench), and the endless stream of toy catalogs we move from mailbox to recycling bin. Nevertheless, it was much to our chagrin that our three year old became hyper focused on wanting this and needing that for Christmas. Even though Brian still recalls the thrill of opening his drum set, and I that rush from discovering my Cabbage Patch dolls, we want the holidays to mean more to our kids than just getting stuff.

Pondering how to shift the focus away from acquiring treasure and put some soul back in the holidays, we started recalling our favorite non-present-related holiday memories from childhood. We remembered going outside at night to look at lights, my neighborhood's annual caroling walk, and a whole lot of making—from snow creatures to cookies to decorations for the house.

So, we decided to test out some of this making with our girls, starting first with decking our halls with treasures from nature. Fortunately, the right decorations fell into our laps (more like, on our heads). Trees like the Sycamore and Sweetgum are dropping their fruits all over our local park. So, we spent nearly an hour hunting for these fabulous formations, filling several bindles with them. We later sorted, counted and selected the pointiest, most fetching fruits. We painted them red, green and blue, then we added them to our Christmas tree a few days later. Low and behold, they have become the most chatted-about ornaments on the tree. We realize there are more elaborate crafts to be done with these objects (and please do feel free to take this up several notches), but for our group, the simplicity of this activity really worked—and the result was still stunning.

The Guide

  1. Go a hunting: Take a bindle, bag, bucket or container for each child to use as they hunt and gather fruits. Head outside and look. First, look for the kinds of tree that will provide your treasures. Here are some options: chestnut, sweetgum, sycamore. Use eyes, but also use hands and even feet to feel for the little balls under the fallen leaves. Welcome kids to collect any other kinds of treasures they find intriguing.
  2. Sort your treasures: When you get home, sort the treasures according to categories like size, color and shape (developing the foundation required to make connections between ideas). We also made groups of ten for each person, getting some great counting practice.
  3. Paint the fruits: Add your own light touch to these design marvels and flex kids' fine motor skills. We used Natural Earth paints (our favorite nature-based paint) but we also had success using tempera paints. Lay them out to dry (a cookie cooling rack worked great for us).
  4. Deck the halls: Once they are dry, place these beauties in a place of prominence. If you celebrate Christmas and have a tree, you can use them as ornaments (use the stem as a hanger). If your family celebrates a different tradition, make them part of your winter holiday or New Years Eve decor. You can place them in a clear glass bowl, midst the photo frames or hang them in the window. Get creative!

Why is this activity great for kids?

It’s not easy to see these light brown fruits midst the fallen leaves of nearly winter, making the search for these fruits a good workout for kids’ sense of sight. Plus, in most shoes, kids can feel for them underfoot. Feeling for fruits with their feet offers kids a neat way to activate their likely underused sense of touch.

Holding these pointy and bumpy objects, grasping a paint brush and moving the brush so that each nook and cranny is painted is a captivating challenge for kids that is perfect for developing fine motor skills.

In addition to remembering the holiday beyond its commercial aspects, we can show kids how easy it is to create their own magic. If we marvel at these creations, they too will marvel, today and always. When we encourage them to gather and transform objects, we awaken their imaginations and plant seeds for limitless future creations.

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Do It Yourself

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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