Five simple eco-art activities for under 5’s

It’s no secret that kids love to experiment with arts and craft. Even before their first birthday, many bubs will attempt to scrawl with a crayon or delight in some finger painting. These early artistic endeavours are great for encouraging their hand-eye coordination, cognitive development, and creativity.

Before you rush out and fill a cupboard with pompoms and pipe-cleaners to encourage your budding Picasso though, take a quick look around your garden, home or recycling bin for some great free resources and inspiration instead. You’ll be helping the planet (and your wallet!) by buying less, while your little one gets to experiment with natural and recycled materials.

1. Play dough imprinting

When you’re next in the garden, park or at the beach, go hunting for shells, leaves or seed pods that catch the eye of your little artist. The more texture, bumps and lumps the better! (Hint: go for dry items that don’t have moss or leaf matter attached).

When you get home, set out some playdough and your newly found natural stamps and let them practice imprinting with the different items to see what patterns, shapes and pictures they can make. If they want to ‘keep’ their artworks, take a picture before remoulding the playdough to use again.

2. Leaf artworks, three ways

Leaves are free, everywhere and super versatile in artmaking for kids. Whenever Little Miss 4 and I are out walking, she always comes home with at least 3-4 leaves to add to her ‘collection’ (a takeaway container on the shelf). These can be used in so many ways:

  1. Painting or stamping: Put out a plate of paint and stamp or swirl them into the paint and onto some paper. Or, you can paint or decorate the leaves themselves to make cute bookmarks or gift tags.
  2. Tracing or rubbing: If you’d prefer to steer clear of paint, they can use crayons or pencils to trace around their favourite leaf, or do a rubbing by placing baking paper over the top.
  3. Picture making: We love drawing birds and using leaves as the ‘feathers’, making fairies with leaf wings, leafy-bodied caterpillars, or drawing mermaids with leafy tails. They also make great dinosaur bodies too! Hint: it’s best to use a bit of sticky tape or double-sided tape to hold the leaves in place on their masterpiece rather than glue.

Eco Art Ideas For Kids - Leaf Printing

Image Credit: Elementary Art Fun, Pinterest

3. Make a photo montage

Art doesn’t have to mean getting out the paints and glue. Making a photo montage is a great way to encourage the artistic eye in your little one (and you don’t need any materials! Win!) Bubs as young as 12-18 months know how to take a picture on their parent’s smart phone, so when you’re out and about in nature let them take some pics of whatever they want. Encourage them to experiment with different angles, light, close ups and colour contrasts (or just let them roam and see what they come back with). You might be surprised at the arty images that come from their snaps! You could even turn some into a photo canvas, photo book, or slideshow.

4. Simple recycling weaving projects

Weaving is a great activity for toddlers and pre-schoolers as it encourages fine motor skills and problem solving. Allow them to practice their skills by using an empty plastic, washing basket as a large, simple loom. Collect up old ribbon, fabric strips or clean, plastic packaging cut into thick strips and tie one end to the basket. Show them how to thread and weave a strip in and through the holes in the sides of the basket to create different coloured and textured patterns. You can keep extending their thread by tying on different lengths of fabric or packaging.

As they get more experienced, they can make a simple ‘God’s Eye’ weaving. Find two 15-20cm long, thick sticks from the garden and secure them into an ‘X’ shape by wrapping a strip of recycled fabric or material around the point where they cross over. Once secure, continue wrapping over and around one arm of the X, then over and around the next arm, and so on. Tighten the material each time and push down snugly toward the centre until the weaving forms a diamond shape around the ‘X’ shape and reaches close to the tip of each stick.

Eco Art Ideas For Kids - God's Eye Weaving

Image Credit: Crafty Magazine

5. Stock an eco-materials station and let them take the lead

It’s so important for our little ones to have opportunities to create and experiment in an unstructured way. Keep a box of recycled art materials such as egg cartons, plastic punnets, tissue boxes and cardboard rolls on hand so your little artist can invent their own projects. It’s amazing to watch them use their imagination to create something they’re really proud of – and because they’re taking the creative lead, there’s more time for you watch on with a hot cuppa!

There’s an artist in everyone, and you don’t need fancy materials to get creative. Happy making!

Thirty Handmade Days
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Melissa Sellen

Mel holds a Master of Environmental Education and has worked as an educator for Planet Ark and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, as well as State and Local Government. She has sat on the Executive of the Australian Association for Environmental Education (AAEE) NSW Chapter for the past 7 years and helped write the latest NSW Framework for Environmental Education. Mel is a mum to two lovely world-changers under 5 who help her put all her ideas into practice!

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