Life as I know It

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San Luis Obispo, California, and South Bristol, Maine, United States
Author ~ Illustrator ~ Lecturer

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Nature & Art in Our Children's Lives

I am working away at my new book and hoping for input from all of you committed educators, parents, grandparents, doting aunts and uncles, or just plain child lovers. Do you have any specific art projects or nature crafts or adventures you would like to share with me? I cannot guarantee that it will make it into my new book, but anyone who reads my blog will have ready access to your comments. I already have many pages of this section completed, but I am always searching for something magical that can change a child's life.

Here is an example of a craft that I consider magical; it is a skeletonized tomatillo husk that I couldn't bear to compost.

So I looked at it and thought that if I just added a handle and some beads, it would look like a faerie purse. It was difficult to photograph, but look closely. If you can see inside the lacy purse, you'll also see a tiny, tiny, beaded ring that I included as a gift from the faeries. I am going to tuck this purse and ring into my granddaughter's faerie mailbox, which will be the subject of a future entry.

To thank you for participating, I am going to choose one project and the submitter will receive a copy of The Little Green Island with a Little Red House, my blank journal, illustrated but waiting for YOUR words of wisdom, and a hardbound copy of Hollyhock Days.

So put on your thinking cap and write me a note. I look forward to hearing from all of you in the next few days. Please enter your blog comment on or before July 10,2008. I will sign your books any way you would like and we'll ship them to you quickly.

Remember, it's still not too late to plant great things in your gardens or in a big container.

Green blessings to you all,



Carol Michel said...

Sharon, I found out about your blog from Dee at Red Dirt Rambling.

My project suggestion is garden fairy doors. I don't know if you have featured these in other books, but I have two doors, one outside by a miniature garden, the other inside my house. When my little nieces and nephews come over they are always looking sideways at the door, wondering if a garden fairy really might appear. Of course, I decorate the inside door for Christmas and other holidays.

It was easy to make the doors out of wood cutouts sold in most hobby & craft stores.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Sharon Lovejoy said...


I love this. I once saw a little door covering an opening at the base of an apple tree, but I like the idea of having it inside as well.

Thank you and I know that others will love your idea too.


kari and kijsa said...

Creating a little game with the tops of acorns can be a perfect fall collection day. We send our little ones out to scavenge in the yard (or have done nature scavenger hunts on our way to and from school.

Simply dust each one off, insert a magnet into each hollow lid, then prepare a game board on paper...

this can be done as a simple tic-tac-toe, or get more creative...even a chore chart!! Laminate the paper illustrated by your tot as well, then attach to a cookie sheet...let the games begin

...this was just one off the top of our heads...let us think, and let us know if this s what you are looking for....

kari & kijsa

Anonymous said...

My daughter and I both love going for a nature walk around our yard/garden and collecting seasonal leaves and flowers in a little basket, then making imprints in sculpey with them. We've done this three times now, when different plants were in leaf and bloom. Here's a link to one of them: We also use our nature walk collections for nature collages and suncatchers. -Jean

amy turn sharp said...

We love these nature projects:

Anonymous said...

My daughter loves going on "adventure walks" with her little adventure bag used for collecting all sorts of treasures. Our favorite place to go is a little open grassy area surrounded by trees and edged by a stream that we call "the valley." Once there, her favorite thing is throwing rocks in the water. I have to drag her away when it is time to go. I guess she gets that from me -- we spent hours tossing rocks in water as kids.

As far as crafts go -- we like to make buttercup crowns in the spring. Just braid the buttercup stems together adding in as you go (like a french braid) and it makes a lovely golden crown.

MamaGames - Alexa C. said...

The nature project we do over and over is to make simple window decorations. We lay out contact paper on the porch, sticky side up, then explore our yard together, hand in hand, to find tiny flat treasures - flower petals, leaves, seeds, bits of spiderweb, crumbles of dirt, and so on. We bring our treasures back to the porch and arrange them on the contact paper, then fold it over and seal the goodies inside.

What I love about this is that it is a fabulous project for all ages. My toddler daughter likes to get handfuls of grass and plop them down; my six year old son likes to see how many different leaves he can find; and I like to arrange petals and leaves in a symmetrical design. We've made window pictures, greeting cards, pendants, bookmarks and other pieces this way.

I wrote about the project on my blog here:

Anonymous said...

I heard about your blog from The Artful Parent.
We have used acorns and acorn lids for many crafts -- I am going to try letting my kids transform them into tiny people this fall, now that their fingers are more able to handle tiny things.

As a child myself, I remember setting up "shop" amid wild mint growing in our yard to sell "fresh herbs for cooking." We even received castoff vegetables and herbs from a neighbor's garden (nibbled on by rabbits) to add to my inventory. Fun!

I also used to play for hours in an empty greenhouse on our lot -- and I also remember making "ice cream cones" out of scooped wet sand heaped into tiny cone-like clay pots, topping the "treats" with a red berry "cherry."

Thanks for the nifty giveaway!

Marcie said...

This idea can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose to make it. At its most basic, the idea is to have a piece of yarn, perhaps a yard in length, tied into a circle. Slip it into your pocket. When you are outside with children, have them lay the circle on the ground - in the lawn, the garden, the beach, anywhere - and investigate all of the life, including plant life, that lies inside. A magnifying glass is nice to have on hand at this point for closer inspection.

Now, to embellish this idea:

The Rainy Day Version: If your nature walk is cancelled due to a rainy day, you can spend the time indoors dressing up your yarn with pony beads, or even string some colorful glass beads on heavy duty beading string. Each child can make their own, illustrating their personality through color and pattern choices. On the next nature walk, take these along and proceed as described above.

The Scavenger Hunt Version: On your nature walk, use the yarn circle to explore several different habitats, and also collect seed pods, pretty leaves, husks and hulls, etc. When you return from your walk, carefully pierce holes in these natural treasures and string them on the yarn as a momento of what you and the children found in nature.

The Group Activity Version: Instead of yarn, use hoola hoops. Let each child give their ring a toss. Then have them all investigate the "wildlife" (on a miniature scale) that lives within that boundary. They can each make a list to see who finds the most variety. Even a honeybee flying over the ring while they are investigating counts.

The original basic idea, just the yarn tucked in a pocket, is one I learned as a child in Girl Scouts. Our leaders called this a "Magic Circle." I renamed it, at least in my own mind. I call it a "Wonder Ring." After all, you start out wondering what is in the circle, and end up filled with wonder over how much life can be found in so small a space.

~ Aisling

Dayna said...

Hi Sharon -

I found your blog through the Artful Parent. We are big Roots Boots Buckets and Shoots fans. We even created the horseshoe shaped herb garden this summer!

Two nature projects that we have done:

1. Just yesterday we created a toad house with a small water dish that my daughter said is a swimming pool! We painted a clay pot and then added some decorative glass marbles. Then we buried it on its side in our butterfly garden. I will actually be posting on my blog all about it on Monday as part of the weekly Unplug your Kid Challenge.

2. In my sewing space we save all of our tiniest fabric scraps and then we but them in a basket near or tree line so the birds can be free to take whatever nesting materials they like. Next season I think I will create a small sphere out of netting or yarn and stuff it with all the goodies and hang it in a pine tree. That way the birds can just pick what they want through the holes.

Bren said...

I love the door idea! We have a tree that has an opening that has been the site of some fairy activity, and a door would be a nice addition.

I have two boys who love fairies and dragons and wood elves and such. One day they created little scenes and houses using pinecones, sticks, rocks, flowers and whatever they could find. I gave them the digital camera and they took very close-up pictures, and the end result was something that made you feel like you could walk right into the scene. Their scenes often included little green soldiers and toy dragons battling toy knights. I imagine gentler children might have more pastoral scenes in mind.

Anonymous said...

The easiest thing I've ever done, with the most interesting results for my kids was to place a halved orange in my tree. I'd noticed Orioles around my house, and had heard they liked oranges. I secured the orange on a smaller branch. By the end of the day, the Orioles had discovered the orange halves, and were in heaven (and so were my kids)!

Also, my uncle used to make Acorn People. He took a pen and drew faces on the acorn shell. The top looked like a hat. You can use pinecones for bodies and twigs for arms and legs. So much fun! :)

By the way, I LOVE your books! I discovered you through Jean Van't Hul.

Sharon Lovejoy said...

K & K,

This is wonderful. So simple and accessible, yet very creative and original.

Thank you so much!

I am dipping into my acorn collection to make one today.

Green blessings,


Spinneretta said...

My kids favourite adventures consist of:
-creating a 'mine' in the garden... I think they hope they can find gold LOL.
-Swinging on our vines. I have pictures of them doing it.
-Throwing the hardy (trifoliate) oranges down our hill to see which goes furthest :)
-Lying or sitting on a convenient tree or rock and watching the wildlife.
-Following the ants as they trail across the garden.

Then there were mine as a child... long grass became a jungle, and we'd hide in it with walkie-talkies pretending to be adventurers!

Our favourite crafts... well there is the decorated pinecone... at Christmas we have been known to spray paint those gold and silver, or decorate with glitter and hang them on the tree.
Sometimes they become bird feeders.
I have wondered about folling in the footsteps of squirrel nutkin and using them for a bowling game :)
My son's favourite is taking pine needles and crafting a tiny, fairy-sized broom with them :) He once made one for a visitor of ours!
The kids have also been known to make nests with the pine needles in autumn. Once they made one for a squirrel and were thrilled when he sat in it! Another time they made a HUGE one for themselves... I have photos on my garden blog with them in the 'fort'.

Hope everyone likes my garden stories ;)

Anonymous said...

We love painting rocks or coloring them with chalk and then using them to enhance our garden.. as decorative elements or as plant markers for our seeds and seedlings. Another that we like to do is to press flowers and then put them in between contact paper to make suncatchers and bookmarks. One that I'm hoping to do this summer is to make a bunch of these "suncatchers pressed flowers" and have the kids string beads (either ones we have laying around or ones made from clay) and one suncatcher on each one and then make tie them on an embroidery hoop for our own version of a wind ornament (I would say chime but I don't want to scare the birds away with lots of noise).

Fairy houses and habitats are of course always a big hit too.

Another summer activity that I have planned is to get out in the garden for some water color inspiration... have the kids paint some of the vegetables that we have in the garden and then laminate with contact paper and use those as additional plant markers... so much more colorful that the wooden craft sticks/tongue depressors that I am currently using!

Can't wait to see the book you are currently working on. I wish you much inspiration and enjoyment during your latest creative endeavor! We're big fans of your books as having just discovered them from one of the blogs I read.

Thank you for your passion and for sharing it with all of us!!


The Diva said...

My youngest has her own little space in the garden. We go to the nursery in the early spring, and she picks out plants she really likes. Even if I don't like them, I don't say anything or try to steer her away to anything else. Then, we plant them together. That area is her responsibility and her pride and joy.

Not exactly a children's craft or project. I actually like the fairy doors better.~~Dee

Melissa said...

Hi Sharon,

I have a few nature crafts and adventures listed on my blog. I would love to share any of them in part or whole. Here are a few:

We Love Mud!

Turn It Over!

Woodland Fairy House

Take a Wildflower Walk


In the Sparrow's Nest

Anonymous said...

I jumped over here from "The Artful Parent" because I'd love to submit a favorite nature project for the chapter you are working on. This is a delightful activity for young toddlers through young elementary aged springtime, after talking about, reading stories about, or observing in nature the nesting behaviors of birds, go on a nature walk with your child(ren) and collect a small bag or basket full of soft items that they think would make for a cozy, safe nest (grasses, flower petals, dandelion fluff, feathers, pine needles, whatever strikes their fancy). Then give them a brown lunch bag, rolled down upon itself to make a nest-like container, and with a small squeeze bottle of glue, allow them to place their soft items in the nest. Nature items can be supplemented at home with bits of yarn, ribbon, etc. These nests are lovely to look at and lead to lots of nature-inspired imaginative play. By the way, I am in the midst of a series of four seasonal articles on the topic of nature-inspired art for tots/preschoolers for Washington Parent Magazine. You can see the Springtime article here, and the summer article is due out any day now.

Wish I knew how to include a link to images for you, but I don't!

Love your gardening ideas! I think I may have convinced my husband to plant the sunflower house for next summer!

Julie Liddle

Anonymous said...

We love blackberry picking. Collecting leaves to do leaf rubbings with crayons. Daisy chain making, collecting big pine cones to make bird feeders from lard and wild bird seed stuck into the pinecone(good one for kids to make as teacher appreciation gifts).

erica said...

Hi, Sharon! I found you from The Artful Parent and have been enjoying your site. =) My favorite thing to do, which I haven't done with my son (almost 1) yet but which I hope to do soon, is making nature collages. Collecting flower petals, small blooms, sticks, leaves, seed pods, etc., and gluing them on paper or placing them between two sheets of contact paper always looks neat, and it's a great activity for different ages, even some of the youngest nature-lovers out there. Happy writing!

dznomore said...

There is always something comforting about reading your blog, the quiet sense of wonder. I enjoy my small city garden and see you have come to appreciate yours as well.
My favorite nature activity is to use an egg carton to showcase a collection of items from a nature walk. You can put glue in every hole and then place the items. We sometimes lay sticks and feathers along the grid lines too. It's easy for all levels of children and they can close the lid and keep the treasures safe. It even makes a nice traveling exhibit.
This is my favorite spring activtiy to use with my early intervention classroom as it is adaptable to all developmental ages and abilities.

erica said...


I was thinking about your post last night while I was falling asleep and thought of another idea, not one that's been tested, but something I think would be great. Help kids set up a nature blog, wherein they post pictures of things they've seen, tell stories about walks they took, etc. They could even focus on a particular area each month, such as a series of pictures of a bird's nest they find, or made-up stories about the lives of animals they see in a creek, etc. Spreading the word to family and friends to get them to link to the blog would be a great way to increase traffic and help kids learn about the great support available on the blogosphere. In addition to being a fun nature activity, it could also be a great vehicle for teaching about online research, writing for an audience, and taking/editing digital pictures. I know I'd definitely read a kid's nature blog, and it would be a lot of fun to create something like that.

Mammajenni said...

Hi! I am a MotheringDotCommune mamma and love to share ideas for children's crafts. We like to make mudprints - mix up a batch of your gooiest mud in any corner of the garden, dip hands or feet, shake off excess, print on paper. Lay in the sun to dry and then brush off the dried bits. Enough mud-paint always remains to make a lovely print. Try using finger prints to make flowers or designs too.

Sunprints are always popular. Gather bits and pieces from outdoors, different shaped leaves, a feather, flowers, shell, rock, twig, and arrange on a piece of dark/brightly colored construction paper. Leave it in a sunny spot on a still day (wind will move the lighter objects) and let the sun "bleach" the exposed portions of paper.

After a storm, we have lots of twigs and sticks to pick up in the yard. To make this chore into play-time, we make a fairy fence along the edge of the flower bed or around a bush. It's fun to push the sticks into the dirt side-by-side and something that my three year old can do for a long time. My Eight year old is just as enthusiastic and finds ways to incorporate gates, windows, and light posts into the mix.

We also make fun collections for the birds: On house cleaning day, I encourage the children to keep an eye out for anything the birds can use for their nests; a bit of yarn from a cotton blanket, dryer fluff from the laundry, a few straws from my broom) We put a basket on the table to collect it all and then hang the basket on a branch outside. It is emtied regularly by birds and squirrels in our yard.

Thanks to everyone for the great ideas! I can't wait to try a few new ones.

NJ Tracy Jean said...

Hi Sharon! Came to your blog from the Artful Parent. One of my favorite nature projects to do with children is very basic and low tech but has always seemed magical to me. I love mushroom spore prints. Just take a mushroom found on a nature walk. I always take this opportunity to tell kids about how dangerous wild mushrooms are and insist that only adults can pick them. Take off the top and set it on a piece of paper and place in a spot it will not be disturbed. In about 24 hours carefully remove the mushroom cap and voila spores have dropped from the gills leaving a beautiful print on the paper.

Another favorite is crayon resist leaf paintings. Have your child do a rubbing with crayon of a leaf. Make sure to teach them how to use the naked crayon on its side and hold the paper while rubbing in one direction. Be sure to use plenty of crayon to capture the image of the leaf. Then paint over the rubbing with water color paint. These turn out beautiful.

Another fun project is to make a chipmunk exercise gym by tying peanuts at short intervals to a string and then stringing the whole "garland" between a couple trees. Then keep an eye to see the little guys try to get them down.

Anna - Three Sneaky Bugs said...

So many things come to mind. The one we've been concentrating on most right now has been raising caterpillars:
There's nothing quite like the excitement that arises when the butterfly (or moth) emerges.

We also like to "cook" in the yard. Provide a pot, stirring spoon and some measuring cups. The ingredients are those found in the yard. Sometimes water or ice is added to cool things off. Cakes, soups and stew of the most unusual nature are created. Although, dandelions are quite commonly used. Mostly we do this in our backyard, but it's great camping or on a picnic as well.

JessTrev said...

For my daughter's 5th birthday we had her friends go on a treasure hunt to collect interesting/beautiful flowers and leaves - then they pressed them into glass/cardboard Clips frames from IKEA. Also, we collected flower petals and threw them up in the air like confetti while singing Happy Birthday (it was April - cherry blossoms).... I blogged about it here:

Love your books!
PS What's not too late to plant? I have a little space open in my community garden but thought it was tooooo late for anything else. (DC)

Manhattan Mama said...


I used to visit your garden and studio in Cambria, driving up often from Los Angeles. I bought Sunflower Houses believing one day I would have a daughter who would help me build magical gardens!

Well, now I have a magical 5-year-old daughter, only we live in Manhattan and so some creative thinking is required to make sure we invite fairies in our lives.

I often use your book as a launching pad. Obviously we can't build Sunflower Houses in our tiny apartment. But we do keep tea cup gardens going in our window sill -- right now there are seedlings of spearmint, chamomile, lemon balm and sunflowers peeping through.

Also, we love our fairy treasure hunts -- where we search out signs of fairies in our neighborhood. Of course violets are a sure sign fairies are afoot. But linden blossoms are of course magical as well. We collect them (as we did in the last few weeks when they bloomed) and dried them on thread in her bedroom, a sweet lilting perfume that we know invite fairies to visit at night. Then there are fairy dolls to make from morning glory flowers we find on a wild vine near our apartment. And the fireflies (we call them evening fairies!) that we visit at dusk and wish a goodnight.

Thank you for the lovely blog, and ideas to help me and my city dwelling daughter keep magic blooming!

jen mackintosh said...

What a lovely idea to have a little bouquet of ideas gathered here.

I don't really have anything delightful to add. We're really a very simple family when it comes to enjoying nature. There is nothing that is more of a balm to our spirits wearied by the sometimes hurried and frantic pace than a walk in nature. Sometimes these take place in the woods, sometimes along the river, sometimes right in our own gardens. We try to walk weekly. Always a delight to the senses, the children are encouraged to observe and listen. Nothing is rushed. When we get home, we eagerly look through our bag of treasures collected - an abandoned three tiered hornets nest, a collection of flint, a trio of fragile, paper-like chinese lanterns, a lovely moth, a piece of moss, and a new pet inchworm. Exciting rabbit trails spring from the examination of our treasures...and they take on new purpose.

We have dedicated an entire shelf to the display of our nature treasures. Baskets are set out for leaves. Small, yet fragile treasures are kept in watch cases with clear covers so they can be revisited later without damaging the delicate contents. Fishing tackle boxes make wonderful containers for our embarrasingly large rock collection.

In the deep cold of the winter, I bring down the treasures from our shelf and set them out in one grouping at a time - perhaps botanical treasures for a couple of weeks, then geological treasures, maybe insects next. We re-visit them all over again during a time when it is nigh impossible to venture out of doors and our cherished nature walks are limited to sitting in the kitchen and watching the cardinals out the kitchen window while sipping hot tea inside.

A delicately tended collection of nature's treasures has been our favorite way of preserving the elusive breezes of spring and the crisp smells of fall.

Many well wishes on the latest book - we'll be eagerly awaiting it.

crazyestonian said...

One of my favorite nature projects as a child was making dandelion fairy dolls. I am from Estonia and when I was a child this was a common game, here in the US no-one has heard of it. In primary grades we used to act out elaborate plays with these dolls during breaks between lessons.

First you find a dandelion with a long stem, a stick about 5-6 inches tall, with a pointy tip, this can be something as skinny as grill stick though we used branches, and a couple of leaves. You poke the flower head into the stick so that the stick enters the blossom off center and goes through to the calyx. This is the head and body, the yellow part of the flower being the face. Next make hair by separating the stem into multiple strands. Soak the strands in water (we used puddles) and they curl up into beautiful fairy hair. Then add a shirt out of a leaf by poking the leaf onto the stem and tying with a long blade of grass, we often used dandelion leaves for tunics. You can add arms out of another stick tied on crosswise, we usually didn't. Add a skirt out of another leaf (or several) and you are done. Add parasols from leaf& stick or make a whole fairy house interior out of rocks and leaves. Sometimes we even made babies with sticks, heads of dandelion buds with just a teeny bit of yellow peeking out, and leaves for bunting.

Described like this it doesn't sound so fabulous but it really is a perfect game for 6-7 year old girls. And the best part is that you don't need anything other than things found from nature. Also this is not a preserving kind of project but rather something you leave out in the grass once you are done.

Unknown said...

About 12 years ago, I started a "fairy garden" for my youngest daughter. I searched flea markets, yard sales and antique malls looking for objects to put in the garden:
-tiny gardening tools
-fairy figurines
-fairy houses (birdhouses)
-doll furniture

I would try to place something new in the garden every few week and my daughter loved visiting the garden to see what the fairies were doing. One day, they may be plowing the veggie garden, another they may have clothes out on the line. There was always something new to see and enjoy.

My youngest is now 16, so she thinks she is too big for the fairy garden. But I have grown to love this little shade garden and I keep it maintained for the day I have grandchildren.

I do believe in fairies, I do, I do, I do!

Jennifer said...

My daughter and I make earrings out of bleeding heart blossoms. For each earring harvest two connected flowers. Tuck one on the edge of your earlobe so the other one can dangle.

Terra said...

Your books and their illustrations are delightful, and your witty titles. I bought two of your books and selected the first for the title Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots.
With a title like that, it had to be good, right?
My own first book will be out this fall, Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts.

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