How many times have you heard your child say, "Look what I found!" with delight and amazement? All children see the creative potential in "stuff," but it is sometimes hard for adults to muster the same enthusiasm for a seemingly ordinary branch, leaf, or rock. By championing such discoveries, however, with open-ended questions like, "What do you see?" or "What might you do with that?" you'll help develop your child's self-expression, creative thinking, and problem-solving skills. Take a walk together, and be willing to see the beauty and uniqueness in a small piece of "nothing" that is a big "something" to your child. It can lead to a great deal of learning and fun for both of you.
It is said, "Give a child a stick and he can be entertained for hours." Take your child for a walk to collect small branches or sticks. Ask, "How many different ways could we use these branches?" Here are a few ideas to try:
- Make a branch mobile or a wind chime by hanging interesting found objects and art materials off a horizontal branch.
- If you find big branches (roughly shoulder-high), make walking sticks. Decorate them with windings of ribbon or yarn and a few beads or shells.
- Decorate sticks to celebrate the seasons — colored leaves and nuts in the fall; white ribbons, snowflakes, or silver or blue stars in winter; pastels and flowers in spring; or a patriotic red, white, and blue theme with streamers for summer's Independence Day.
- Consider passing around a beautiful branch during dinner as a Native American-inspired "talking stick." Whoever holds the stick has the right to speak.
Wild About Leaves and Weeds
These activities are best undertaken in the autumn or early winter when you can discover the beauty of dried weeds and leaves.
- Examine the weeds and leaves with your child. Ask, "How are they the same or different?" If possible, use an unbreakable magnifier (often sold as party favors) to get a close-up view.
- Fill recycled containers or jar lids with clay to form a base for a dried weed arrangement. Sprinkle the clay with colored gravel and shells, or drape it with moss. Then gently press the gravel or moss into the clay and poke the clay with chopsticks to create small holes in which the weeds can stand.
- Milkweed seedpods make great boats or window ornaments when painted and filled with dried flowers. Or invite your child to offer his own suggestions for how to use the seedpods.
- Make lovely leaf prints by having your child turn the leaves over (to the vein side) and lightly paint them with tempera. While the leaf is still wet, press the painted side onto a piece of paper to create a print. Just like snowflakes, no two are the same!
Stones and rocks come in such wonderful shapes, sizes, and textures. Here are some ways to use these different "finds" with your child:
- Invite your child to close his eyes and touch the different rocks with his hands. What do they feel like? How are they different? Have him sort the rocks into piles and then open his eyes to see what is in each. Any surprises?
- Ask, "What can you do with your rocks?" Provide a variety of art materials such as paper, glue, fabric, pipe cleaners, and buttons. Stand back and see what he does with them all.
- Make rock creatures or "pets" with your child by gluing rocks together. Use markers to make features and pipe cleaners for arms, legs, and tails.
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