'Upcycled' Crafts and Nature Art

August 3, 2020 by Caroline Weiss, Environmental Education Intern
As an Environmental Education Intern with the Parks Conservancy, seasoned babysitter, and former counselor at Heritage Creek Farm Camp, I’ve become quite passionate about affordable and creative craft projects! Using natural objects or recycled materials found around your home are wonderful ways to make unique projects at a minimal cost. The best part? Gathering materials from outdoors! I have had some memorable times going on “nature scavenger hunts” with my campers and searching for smooth stones to paint in local streams.
 
The kids who attended my “Backyard Camp” absolutely loved the first activity I’ll share—making forest friends from natural objects. Crafting with natural objects is exciting not only because the materials are unusual, but because the collecting process gets kids moving and immersed in their environment.
 
During these long days of summer with heavy restriction, I’m sure that other caregivers are desperate for new ways to entertain bored children. Parents, babysitters, older siblings, and educators, I hope that you find some new inspiration in creating these upcycled or nature-based projects.

Nature Scavenger Hunt/Forest Friends 
For this activity and craft, you have a lot of freedom in deciding which materials to include! The space I used, a friend’s backyard, had ample smooth stones, twigs, feathers, flowers, and leaves, so we included these items in our creations. In a backyard, you can also have kids gather shells, ferns, grasses, pinecones, acorns, or anything else you imagine would be a great addition to a critter! Searching for your list of items in a park would also be an enjoyable experience and pair nicely with a short walk or hike.

Glue is the only other necessary material in addition to your found natural objects! Optional supplies include paint, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, sequins, and scissors.
 

Directions 

  1. Collect all of the natural objects on your pre-determined list. With a larger group of children, you could have them work together in teams. 
  2. Return to a table or other workspace to lay out all of your scavenger hunt items, glue, and other optional materials. 
  3. Let your kids’ imaginations run wild! For the forest friends my campers made, many kids painted rocks and added googly eyes, flowers, pom poms, and feathers. You could create a hedgehog from a pinecone, a squirrel from a rock and pom pom, or a rabbit’s face from a leaf and pipe cleaners for ears.  

Pencil Holder 

One of my clearest memories from attending nature camp as a six-year-old was creating a pencil holder using a jar and twigs! I enjoyed collecting the twigs, attaching them to my jar, and decorating them. The finished product is special and lasting! For this upcycled version, the only supplies you’ll need are sticks/twigs, toilet paper rolls, glue (I recommend hot or tacky glue), scissors, yard clippers, and a 5x5 inch piece of cardboard. 

 

Directions 

  1. Collect sticks/twigs from your yard, neighborhood, or local park. Skinny sticks work best. 
  2. If you desire to make all the twigs the same length, use yard clippers to trim them to the same height as your toilet paper roll. For a more rustic look, you could trim sticks to different heights. 
  3. Apply either hot glue or tacky glue to a small section of the toilet paper roll and attach a twig; repeat until all twigs are in place. I recommend applying pressure to each twig while the glue hardens. 
  4. Once all sticks are attached, place the pencil holder on the 5x5 inch cardboard piece and trace its base onto the cardboard. Cut the bottom out to a bit smaller than this outline and glue it to the base of your pencil holder. If you’d like, you could decorate the pencil holder with yarn, paint, or other materials. 

Source: https://ziggityzoom.com/nature-inspired-twig-pencil-holder-craft/ 

 


T-shirt reusable bag: https://youtu.be/_mnt06UyIYM 

 

I love utilizing reusable bags to minimize my plastic bag usage! Plastic bags use fossil fuels in their creation and typically end up in landfills, the oceans, or digested by an animal. Cloth bags, on the other hand, can be used and washed for a much longer period of time, thus benefiting our environment. To create this bag, all you need are sharp scissors (fabric scissors work best), an old t-shirt, and a fabric marker (optional). 

Directions 

  1. Cut off the sleeves. 
  2. Cut off the neckline. 
  3. Turn the bag inside out. Draw a line where you’d like the bag’s bottom to be. 
  4. Cut fringe along the bottom of the bag. Use your scissors to cut these slits from the bottom of the shirt up to the line you traced earlier. Make sure the cuts go through both the front and back of the shirt. They should be about ¾ - 1 inch apart. 
  5. Tie each pair of fringe into a knot. Pause after tying three sets. To close the holes between sets, tie one strand from the middle pair with one strand from the left set; repeat on the right side with the remaining middle strand. 
  6. Repeat step 5 until all of the fringe is tied. To finish your bag, turn the bag right side out and the fringe will be inside! If you’d like the fringe on the outside, simply keep the bag right side out throughout the entire process. Enjoy your new bag at the grocery store, other shops, or a trip to your local park! 

Source: https://mommypotamus.com/no-sew-t-shirt-tote-bag-tutorial/ 


Plastic Bottle Bird Feeder: https://youtu.be/3ltoFubiBU8 

 

Feeding the birds in your backyard and watching for interesting species is so much fun! With this simple craft, you can create an effective and unique bird feeder based around a plastic bottle from your recycling bin. You will need a utility knife, an empty plastic bottle, a ruler, a wooden spoon (you may be able to substitute a thick stick), twine, and store-bought or homemade birdseed. 

 

Directions 

  1. About 4 inches from the bottom of the bottle cut a ½-inch wide circular hole on one side and a 1-inch hole on the other side of the bottle. 
  2. Place the wooden spoon’s handle through the larger hole first, then through the smaller hole. The head of the spoon should stick out from the 1-inch hole. If you have an additional spoon, repeat this process a few inches above the first spoon. If you’re using a large stick instead of a spoon, make the holes equal in size. Two ½-inch circular holes should work for most sticks. 
  3. Use the utility knife to make a few holes in the bottle for the birds to access the birdseed when perched on the stick or spoon handle. 
  4. Unscrew the bottle cap and fill the bottle with birdseed. 
  5. With caution, make a hole in the center of the bottle cap using the scissors. Then, thread the twine through this hole. To keep it in place, tie a knot at the end inside the bottle cap. 
  6. Replace the bottle cap back on the feeder. Using the twine, hang your new bird feeder by a tree, a porch, or anywhere else outdoors where the birds will enjoy it without interference from squirrels! 

Source: Do Unto Animals by Tracey Stewart  


Yogurt Container Flower Pots: https://youtu.be/fL078j-xXUQ 

 

Yogurt containers are not recyclable in my hometown anymore, which I find pretty frustrating. An awesome way to repurpose these containers, rather than throwing them out, is to use them to create homemade flower pots! For this project, you’ll need the following supplies: 

  • Large yogurt containers (although smaller ones may work if you have a small plant) 
  • Utility knife 
  • Drill  
  • Acrylic paint 
  • Marker 
  • Foam brush 

Steps 

  1. Trace a line around the container where you’d like to cut it, then cut at this line using a utility knife. The top part and lid can be used as a saucer to sit underneath the planter. 
  2. Use the drill to make a few holes on the bottom of the container to allow excess water to drain out. 
  3. To decorate your flower pot, apply 3-4 layers of paint. When the paint dries, you could add sequins, glitter, stickers, stamps, or anything else you can think of! Now you’re ready to add dirt and your plant. 

Source: https://www.vikalpah.com/2018/05/diy-planters-from-yogurt-containers.html 

 

I hope you had a wonderful time creating some of these projects from natural and recycled materials! These are especially sustainable and eco-friendly projects because they need minimal new/store-bought supplies. Children will love these unique crafts!