Celebrate Color

Nature Art Activity for Kids

Try to make your own paints using the colors that nature has to offer. There's no shortage of paint recipes using natural materials, but in this one, kids can run the show. All you need are berries, a few brightly colored spices, water, and some open earth -- and then let the kids loose. The experimentation and creativity that follows is as lovely as the art that results. 

The Guide

  1. Gather paint-making materials: Our favorite paint ingredients require no heating or heavy processing but still yield brilliant color. This includes things like raspberries, blackberries, beets, turmeric, and paprika. 
    1. If your area has berries for the picking, great -- but keep an eye on what kids find, and be clear that they should not eat anything unless you tell them it’s safe. 
    2. Some areas are lucky to have rocks that are chalky and yield great colors when wet and crumbled. Chalk can also be crushed to make paints, too!
    3. Along with whatever colorful objects you've got, fill up a bottle of water, buckets or containers for mixing (2 or 3 per kid), brushes, and paper or old fabric (tip: watercolor paper is super at grabbing color).
  2. Head outside: Yes, you could do this in the kitchen -- but many grown ups like to keep that as their domain. The world outdoors is a mess-friendly, wide-open space where kids can be in charge. Plus, it comes with endless materials (think brown and green paint) and the invitation to experiment! Head to a spot with plenty of exposed dirt.
  3. Set up the situation: Setting up the situation as a problem to solve is key to allowing kids direct the project. If you are part of Tinkergarten Anywhere's Summer 2022 program, you'll know that we suggest that it’s a great day to paint outdoors. We've got the paper, brushes, and water -- and then, looking aghast, we announce that we can't find the paints! Ask, “What can we do? How can we make our paintings?” If we allow kids to mull the issue -- you may be surprised at their ideas and you'll see them get really engaged in problem solving. You can even suggest something like, “Hmm...for a long, long time, paints were made from plants and the earth. Do you think we could use things from nature? What kind of colors could we get?” 
  4. Let kids mess around: Put out the paint-making berries and spices you brought. Make water, buckets and sticks accessible, then welcome kids to start making paints! Rather than direct the kids, work alongside them, making your own mud, berry, and spice concoctions (it’s fun!). When you make a color you like, announce that you’re putting it aside to save for painting -- they’ll get the idea. Given the opportunity, kids will mash, mix, stir, and experiment for a while. Give a shout-out as kids employ inventive strategies or test new nature materials.
  5. Make art! After allowing plenty of time to make paints (around twenty minutes or even longer), lay out some watercolor paper and brushes and start painting on your own. Welcome kids to join you when they’re ready. Don’t forget to display the results! 
    1. Tip: You can use twine and clothespins to dry and display kids’ paintings—a great way to celebrate everyone’s work.
  6. Have young kids in tow? For kids between about 18 to 30 months, this is less about problem solving and more of a sensory experience. Give toddlers a chance to make a wild mess -- let ‘em mash, mix, stir, dump, and repeat! Keep paper posted at their height and leave brushes within reach. Without saying a word, pick up a brush and paint a little, either from the mixes they’ve made in buckets or from pools of mud-berry-spice paint they’ve dumped on the ground. They’ll likely follow your lead.
  7. Make a cultural connection. This past year, we shared this lesson as a way to connect to the Indian festival of colors known as Holi. Although its meaning and how it is celebrated varies depending on region in India, Holi is a joyful, colorful celebration of the move from winter into spring. And, kids and adults alike can be inspired by the common practice of extracting colors from nature as part of the Holi celebration. Want to help kids understand a bit more about Holi? Watch this video read aloud of Festival of Colors by Kabir Sehgal & Surishtha Sehgal Illustrated by Vashti Harrison 

Why is this activity great for kids?

This isn’t just another painting project. Switching from “let’s follow this recipe” to “we have a dilemma -- what should we do?” not only gives kids experience with how to solve genuine problems, but allows them the freedom to invent the solutions -- the very basis of creativity. This activity’s colors, scents, and textures (maybe even tastes!) help kids develop multiple senses -- and also make it extremely engaging. The deceptively simple acts of stirring mixtures and transferring paint from bucket to bucket support universal patterns in brain development known as behavioral schema. Meanwhile, fine motor skills get a boost from holding sticks for mashing and grasping brushes for painting. Most gratifying of all, you’ll likely hear, “Look what I made!” When kids take pride in their artwork, that’s hard evidence that making things on their own boosts self-esteem -- a true masterpiece.

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