Nature craftJPGI’ll be the first to admit that I adore those complex, multi-step, Pinterest projects where you come out with this art museum worthy piece of your child’s footprint or handprint.

I subscribe to various homeschooling groups that provide ready-to-go learning projects for preschoolers and toddlers. I even have a workbook of kindergarten activities to get a jump start with James. Well, it’s around here somewhere, buried on my desk I think. But you get the point. I love doing fun creative things with my kids. Do I take it a little too far sometimes? Create some unrealistic, over-the-top ideas in my head and get disappointed when they turn out so bad they could be featured on the “Pinterest Fail” Buzzfeed? Yeah, probably.

So I’m trying to get a better balance of just “being” with my kids with no major agenda or plan. I’m trying to let their imaginations guide our play, as well as the structured activities with specific learning elements and goals in mind. Who really has time to put together all those elaborate projects anyway? I’m finding that I certainly don’t! Sure we have some pretty epic finger-paint versions of the Mona Lisa, but dinner hasn’t been made and the laundry is still sitting in the basket for the third day in a row. Priorities, priorities.

On one of the recent warm spring days, I decided to get my energetic kids outside for awhile. I gave them each a little tote bag and told them we would be collecting small, light pieces of nature from outside to glue onto a “nature collage.” This ended up being a nice mix of letting them run and play, but watching as they learned which things were too heavy to be glued onto paper and which things were just right. It was also interesting to watch them figure out what was considered nature versus things that were man-made. I pointed out a few examples in the beginning, but after that I let them roam our yard and the woods nearby in search of whatever their little creative minds wanted to find.

I had to remind my 2-year-old a few times that nothing alive could be glued to the collage. After picking a few caterpillars and a spider out of his bag, he got the idea. My 4-year old son kept tossing in heavy rocks and large sticks that I let him try to glue on later so that he could learn firsthand why they were too heavy.

After our exciting nature walk, I gave them each a white piece of card stock and glue. I didn’t make any suggestions on how to place their items. It was pretty fun watching them create their own little masterpieces. Super simple, but probably one of the best projects I’ve done with them. It was a great reminder for me to keep things simple.

Now how should I decorate the shadow box frame I’m putting their collages in…

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Watts edited W

Mandy Watts is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Crownsville with her husband, Justin, who runs their family business, and their two sons, 4-year-old James and 2-year-old Luke.