Nature and Art: Winter Edition

Above, a toddler uses pine branches he collected when walking outside as a paintbrush. He experiments with the various marks the needles and branches make on the paper as well as how the branch itself (and the marks it makes) evolves over time as it becomes increasingly flexible and loses needles.

Looking at Natural Materials in a New Way

As the seasons change, children are naturally highly attuned to changes in their surroundings. While adults may no longer always see the magic in transitioning weather, every detail that brings about seasonal shifts can be an opportunity for children to investigate, question, make believe, and create. By letting children identify the differences they notice, details that we come to experience as expected and ordinary can take on new meaning and learning. In the winter, trees are bare, ice and snow fall from the sky, and warming spices fill the home.  These changes are temporary, which highlights the concept of passing time as well as the concept of a continuously changing world. Both of these concepts are relevant and meaningful topics for young children and can be explored through observations and investigations into tracking the change in weather, patterns of light, andvarious sensory invitations. Snow falling from the sky is simultaneously a magical and scientific experience that has a multitude of opportunities for a child’s imagination, creativity and deep learning about materials and science. Bare branches highlight completely different components of a tree than the leafy greens of summertime or the changing colors of the fall, prompting questions about the structure of a tree and plants, bark, nutrition and life cycles just to name a few. Regardless of where you live and how cold or snowy this season is, the uniqueness of Winter creates endless opportunities for exploration, learning and creating art.

Creating with Nature

Above, an infant (8 months) touches melting snow that is mixed with liquid watercolors.  As the snow melts, the colors blend and mix together.

While the weather is cold, there are many sensory rich experiences you can set up in your house as you hibernate.  

  • Make homemade playdough and infuse it with spices and essential oils. 
  • Add 1 tbsp of cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, or cocoa powder.
  • Add 5 tbsp of dried lavender and 4-5 drops of lavender essential oil.
  • Add 8-10 drops of peppermint extract or essential oil.
  • Add loose pine needles to playdough to create an interesting texture.
  • Take advantage of snow when it begins to fall in your neighborhood!
  • Scoop fresh snow in a metal bowl with spoons, measuring cups, and cookie cutters.
  • Use liquid watercolors or food coloring to change the color of the snow.  Start with red, yellow, and blue and watch as the colors blend together.
  • Paint directly onto the snow with tempera or liquid watercolors.
  • Make snow sculptures by adding pinecones, sticks, and pine branches.
  • Make your own winter ice cubes using large ice molds of different shapes and sizes.
  • Freeze fruit, such as dried oranges and cranberries.
  • Cut leftover tinsel and ribbon and add before freezing.  
  • Add confetti and glitter.
  • Once ice cubes have frozen, invite children to paint them with watercolors or food coloring.
  • Offer kitchen items, such as forks and tongs, so children can try to “free” the materials from the frozen ice.

Above, an infant (11 months) uses small bowls to make three dimensional shapes in compact snow.