Activities

12 nature-based crafts and activities to celebrate spring (and keep your kids busy)

These 12 nature-inspired crafts and activities are a great way to beat those boredom-blues as spring weather arrives.

As a mom of three and a former Kindergarten ECE, I’ve learned that going on a “treasure hunt” and finding your materials for nature activities is half the fun. These spring crafts for kids will keep them busy and teach them to appreciate nature—plus, they don’t cost a lot of money. In fact, you probably already have everything you need in your home, in your backyard, or laying around in your local park, if you can safely take a socially-distanced hike or neighbourhood stroll where you live. (Keep two metres apart from passersby who aren’t part of your family.) Enjoying some fresh air and soaking up the sunshine is an instant mood-booster for kids and cooped-up grown-ups, too.

1. Nature paint brush

two photos, one of pine branches and paint and another of a kid stamping with a flower and paint

Photo: Courtesy of Katie Engel

This is just what it sounds like. Go outside and help your child find various items that will be used as a paint brush. Think flowers, pine needles, pine cones, tall grasses, etc. You may choose to use them as is, like a stamp, or try attaching them to a stick (use a rubber band or some string) to make the “handle” of a paint brush.

2. Yarn wrapping

two photos on of twigs wrapped in yarn to look like wands with stars on the end and another branch wrapped with yarn to make a circle

Photo: Courtesy of Katie Engel

When my kids and I made these, we called them “magic wands.” Challenge your child to find their favourite stick, then provide them with some string, yarn, or even pipe cleaners (whichever you have on hand) to wrap around their stick. You could also tie some longer pieces of string to the end and add some beads for a fun effect.

3. Build a habitat

photos of kids making a habitat diorama in a cardboard box

Photo: Courtesy of Katie Engel

Do you have some little animal figurines, like turtles or dinosaurs? (Batman or Elsa may even enjoy this as well!) Grab some sticks, stones and foliage and build them a habitat or hideout inside a cardboard box. Let your child design the space, placing the sticks and rocks where they would like them. Then use a glue gun (grown-ups only) to secure it all into place.

4. Cutting practice

leaves with scissors and hole punches

Photo: Courtesy of Katie Engel

There’s no doubt that children are drawn to scissors, and I don’t mind one bit, because it’s a great way for them to practice hand-eye coordination and motor control. It’s a tricky—but important—skill to learn. Instead of using paper, switch things up and let them cut up leaves, twigs or trimmings from the last time you cut the grass or pruned the hedges. Put the materials in a small bin or on a tray, provide your child with some child-safe scissors and let the cutting begin! If they’re having trouble, tell them to remember this: “thumb to the sky!” If you’re not able to supervise your child with scissors, you can modify this and use a hole-puncher instead. (And now you have some “nature confetti!”)

5. Rock painting

two photos one showing a kid painting a rock and another showing a rock painting set up with paint bottles and a tin of googley eyes

Photo: Courtesy of Katie Engel

This one seems so simple and easy, but it was a huge hit with my kids. They found some medium-sized rocks outside and then I let them use the “special” paint to decorate their rocks (we used acrylic paint, so it wouldn’t wash off). I even provided some glue and googly eyes to inspire some funny little creatures. You can proudly display the rocks in your garden for years to come!

6. Flower petal soup

a bowl filled with water and flower petals

Photo: Courtesy of Katie Engel

Look outside for various coloured flower petals and nature items and add them to a bin or bowl of water. If the weather is warm enough, this is a great one to do outside. Pretend you’re making a magic potion and need special ingredients; let your child’s imagination run wild here! Grab some ladles and spoons from the kitchen, or use sticks from the backyard for stirring. Their flower petal soup may start out as a beautiful rainbow, but then it might morph into a murky, messy “mud soup,” and that’s OK!

7. Rainbow hunt

natural items being compared to rainbow blocks

Photo: Courtesy of Katie Engel

Go on a “colour hunt” in your backyard or neighbourhood and see how many colours in the rainbow you can find. Bring your nature finds inside to examine and discuss the various colours you found. Compare them to a book about colours you may have. Can you find (and group) similarly-coloured markers, paint samples, magnetic tiles, LEGOs or coloured blocks? Are any an exact match? Which colours did you see most? Were any colours hard to find in nature?

8. Sensory play exploration

photo of a bowl with leaves and animal figurines scattered in it

Photo: Courtesy of Katie Engel

Keep it simple with a sensory exploration bin. Add some tongs, bowls, cups, or even animal figurines. This will allow your little one to dictate where this activity will go by simply providing these open-ended materials and then letting their imaginations take over. Do you have a little one who is still putting everything in their mouth? Let them explore safely by popping the nature items into clear containers for them to look at or roll around.

9. Invitation to paint

a kid painting a picture of rose petals that are in front of them

Photo: Courtesy of Katie Engel

Set up an “invitation to paint” (or invitation to draw) by collecting some flowers and then placing all the materials your child will need on a table for them: paper, brushes, paint, markers, etc. If the weather allows, set up the table or easel outside. Let your child discover this invitation on their own and see how they react. Encourage them to paint or draw what they see. Ask about the colours and shapes that they notice.

10. Counting practice

leaves and sticks and flowers laid out on a table to be counted

Photo: Courtesy of Katie Engel

Go on a number hunt with your child outside and see if you can collect items to count, up to ten (or more!). Start with these prompts: “What would you like to find one of?” Then say, “Now, what should we find two of?” Bring all your items inside and count them out. You may choose to write the numbers (one through ten) on a piece of paper, or use magnetic numbers if you have them. (I used wood rounds and a permanent marker to create our own numbers.) Did you manage to get it all on the first try? You may need to go back out and find more of a certain item.

11. Add to play dough

bowls of natural items and playdough

Photo: Courtesy of Katie Engel

Play dough can be a wonderfully relaxing, meditative activity. Nature items found outside make a beautiful addition to play dough: sticks, rocks, and leaves can be incorporated, along with plastic animals or anything else that helps your child create “small worlds” and engage in imaginative play. Or simply add some flower petals to some plain dough for a fun and unique experience.

12. Natural art

dragonfly art made from natural materials

Photo: Courtesy of Katie Engel

What can you make with the nature items you collected? Use them to create what’s called “transient art:” this means when loose parts are manipulated and explored to make non-permanent patterns, designs, and artwork. Or, make your designs more permanent by helping your child glue them together onto card stock or paper, once they’re happy with their design. Here, we made dragonflies out of sticks and the “helicopters” (or seed pods) from maple trees. What will you make?

Katie Engel, an Ottawa mom and former Kindergarten ECE, runs the kids’ activities blog Early Childhood Fun 101. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram.

 

Activities

25 nature-inspired activities for toddlers

From painting sticks to making mud pies, have some outdoor fun with your little one with any of these nature-inspired activities.

Activities

What to buy to keep your kids entertained during lockdown

Whoever thought we would be stuck at home for this long?

Is everybody having fun? As families across the globe head into yet another week of self isolation, it’s probably fair to say we’re all running out of ideas for things to do at home. And while we appreciate the online storytimes, educational activities, virtual field trips and unprecedented amount of time to actually play with our kids, the idea of just buying something that we know they’ll love (and maybe even play with independently) is very appealing.

If you’re already making a shopping list—whether it’s for an online retailer that will deliver or your local toy store (for curbside pickup), here are a few things to consider adding to your list:

  • baking soda and vinegar: volcanoes and other fun science experiments await!
  • food colouring kit
  • baking kits: check the (virtual) clearance aisles at the grocery store for things like gingerbread house-making kits or Easter egg decorating kits.
  • magnetic tiles or building toys
  • wooden toys: these claim to foster creativity and encourage independent play—we love this wooden bowling set or the Kinderboard.
  • floor puzzles: Melissa and Doug has some great options.
  • board games
  • sidewalk chalk
  • painters tape: transform your dining room floor into a track for their toy trains and cars.
  • hula hoop
  • craft kits
  • craft supplies: construction paper, googley eyes, washi tape, pom poms, glitter (if you dare!), markers, paint.
  • Popsicle-making set
  • seed packets and soil: even if you don’t have a green thumb, kids will love checking in on their seeds and watching them grow. Tomatoes and sunflowers are great plants to grow with little ones.
  • science kits
  • bubbles
  • beads
  • water toys
  • trampoline*
  • backyard climbing structure*
  • swing set*
  • a tablet or video game console
  • outdoor camping gear
  • jump rope
  • the Pikler triangle
  • toy basketball net
  • bike or scooter or skateboard: ideally, these are best practiced on your own property, such as a back or front yard. If you need to take to the street or sidewalk, ensure you keep a safe distance of at least six feet (or two metres).
  • nostalgic toys, like the Skip-it, Pogo-it or Return ball.

*Editor’s note: In an effort to avoid any trips to the hospital, parents should be mindful of kids being involved in risky play. When using things like trampolines, bikes and climbing structures, kids should be supervised at all times.

Activities

5 must-watch Disney Plus shows and movies coming in April

Disney+ is always adding to their library of movies, TV shows and shorts to watch. Here are our top picks for what to watch as a family in April.

New content is coming to Disney+! The streaming service from Disney has announced which TV shows and movies will be added to its lineup next month, and we’ve chosen the five titles we’re most excited about.

But first, an important note: The age recommendations offered below are approximate. Every kid is different, and you’re the best judge of what’s appropriate and what your kid can handle.

Higglytown Heroes, Seasons 1-2

Best for: 3+
Sadly there aren’t any brand new titles for little ones, but this Playhouse Disney show from 2004 may be new to your kids, who are sure to love the world of Higglytown, a place where the people look like Russian nesting dolls. The show follows a group of kids as they meet and learn about the everyday heroes—such as fire fighters, mail carriers and pizza deliverers—who make the town function smoothly. Available April 2

Rio & Rio 2

Best for: 5+
These two movies are definitely not new to most kids, but if your family has yet to watch them, you should. Following the story of Blu, a domesticated parrot from Minnesota who goes on an adventure to Brazil, Rio and its sequel Rio 2 are a delight for viewers of all ages—including parents! Available April 16

Secrets of Sulphur Springs, Season 1

Best for: 7+
This new series aired on Disney Channel earlier this year, but now it’s finally available to view on Disney+. This spooky show follows 12-year-old Griffin and his family as they move into a dilapidated hotel in the town of Sulphur Springs that is supposedly haunted by a young girl who disappeared 30 years ago. When he and his new best friend Harper find a portal that takes them back in time, they decide to use it to find out what happened to her. Secrets of Sulphur Springs may be too scary for younger viewers, but families who love all things scary will surely enjoy it. Available April 16

The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers

Best for: 8+
Parents who loved The Mighty Ducks movies as kids are sure to get a hit of nostalgia from this new reboot that premiered at the end of March. In this show, the Mighty Ducks are no-longer underdogs, in fact they’re a top-notch, ultra-competitive powerhouse. But when 12-year-old Evan doesn’t make the cut, he and his mom decide to create their own team of misfits to challenge the Ducks and rediscover the joy of playing just for the love for the game. New episodes available every Friday in April

Big Shot

Best for: 10+
This dramedy isn’t suited for little ones, but if you have a house of tweens and teens, it looks to be a great show to watch as a family. In this show, John Stamos plays Marvyn Korn, a hotheaded basketball coach who gets fired from his job leading a men’s team in the NCAA, but is given a chance for redemption with a coaching position at an all-girls high school. Soon after taking the job, he learns that coaching teens requires a much different approach than what he’s used to, and together he and his players learn to trust themselves and learn to be better people both on and off the court. New episodes available every Friday starting April 16

Activities

Easter egg hunts with a twist

Make this year's Easter egg hunt an adventure to remember with these creative spins on the traditional search.

 

Read more:
8 adorable Easter books
How to make marble Easter eggs with shaving cream
10 easy Easter brunch recipes

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Activities

11 amazing kids' movies and shows coming to Netflix Canada this April

Paw Patrol, PJ Masks and Mighty Express? In April 2021, Netflix Canada will be fully stocked with some of your kids' fave shows and new movies to stream.

Netflix Canada has announced which new TV shows and movies it will be adding to its lineup next month and, of course, that means more options for kids! There are a bunch of titles to look forward to in April, including more episodes of popular kids shows like PAW PatrolPJ MasksGo! Go! Cory Carson and Mighty Express. Plus there’s a new interactive special set in the world of The Last Kids on Earth! Check out the full lineup with specific release dates below.

But first, an important note: The age recommendations offered below are approximate. Every kid is different, and you’re the best judge of what’s appropriate and what your kid can handle.

Still from Go! Go! Cory Carson showing two cars holding ice cream cones and balloons

Photo: Netflix

Go! Go! Cory Carson, Season 4

Best for: 3+
Whether helping out his friends or making new ones with sister Chrissy, Cory is always on the move and ready for any adventure that comes his way! Available April 27

PJ Masks, Season 3

Best for: 4+
During the day, Amaya, Connor and Greg lead totally normal lives, but they transform into superheroes during the night and use their powers to fight villains and solve mysteries. Available April 27

Still from Arlo the Alligator Boy showing a group of anthropomorphic animals standing in Times Square

Photo: Netflix

Arlo the Alligator Boy

Best for: 8+
To find the father he never knew, optimistic Arlo leaves his swampy Southern home for New York City, making friends and dodging trappers along the way. Available April 16

Still from Family Reunion showing a group of siblings sitting at a dining table and looking concerned

Photo: Netflix

Family Reunion, Part 3

Best for: 9+
The McKellans may be tight on funds, but the family’s never lacking in love as they power through heartache, loss and adversity of all kinds this season. Available April 5 

Still from Fast and the Furious Spy Racers showing three Racers prepping for a fight

Photo: Netflix

Fast & Furious Spy Racers, Season 4: Mexico

Best for: 8+
When the Spy Racers are framed for a crime they didn’t commit, they flee to Mexico to clear their name and uncover a new evil scheme. Available April 16

Hop

Best for: 4+
Fred, who has never taken life seriously, unintentionally injures an Easter Bunny and is forced to take him in as a guest. Soon, hilarity ensues as they struggle to deal with the situation. Available April 7

Still from Izzy's Koala World showing a young kid holding a koala

Photo: Netflix

Izzy’s Koala World, Season 2

Best for: 4+
When a koala needs help, Izzy Bee and her family are there — and with Australia’s extreme fires taking a toll, their care is needed now more than ever! Available April 20

Still from Mighty Express showing a train engine sprinkling something into a big cauldron

Photo: Netflix

Mighty Express, Season 3

Best for: 3+
The strong and fast Mighty Express trains are always ready to save the day with more heroic rescues and thrilling stunts throughout Tracksville! Available April 13

PAW Patrol, Season 7 Part 2

Best for: 3+
the heroic pack of pups—Chase, Marshall, Rubble, Skye, Rocky, Zuma, Everest and Tracker—go on super-charged adventures after receiving all-new abilities when a super power replicating baddie, The Copycat, arrives in Adventure Bay. Available April 1

Still from Last Kids on Earth Happy Apocalypse to You showing a kid holding party supplies while being chased by zombies

Photo: Netflix

The Last Kids on Earth: Happy Apocalypse to You

Best for: 8+
Help Jack and his monster-battling friends make choices to stay alive—and have some fun—in this interactive “Last Kids on Earth” adventure! Available April 6

Still from The Mitchells Vs. The Machines showing a family in a car looking panicked as they get chased by robots

Photo: Netflix

The Mitchells vs. The Machines

Best for: 6+
From the humans who brought you the Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and The LEGO Movie comes The Mitchells vs. The Machines, an animated action-comedy about an ordinary family who find themselves in the middle of their biggest family challenge yet…saving the world from the robot apocalypse. No big deal, right? It all starts when creative outsider Katie Mitchell is accepted into the film school of her dreams and is eager to leave home and find “her people,” when her nature-loving dad insists on having the whole family drive her to school and bond during one last totally-not-awkward-or-forced road trip. But just when the trip can’t get any worse, the family suddenly finds itself in the middle of the robot uprising! Everything from smart phones, to roombas, to evil Furbys are employed to capture every human on the planet. Now it’s up to the Mitchells, including upbeat mom Linda, quirky little brother Aaron, their squishy pug, Monchi, and two friendly, but simple-minded robots to save humanity. Available April 30

LAST CALL!

Netflix takes things off the platform every month, and sadly, this time a few popular kids’ movies are getting the chop. Two Shrek movies, Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After are leaving the platform on April 11th, and the following day on the 12th, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald will also be gone. Luckily there’s still some time left to enjoy them as a family. Everyone to the couch!

Activities

37 egg-cellent Easter gifts for kids

If you’re looking to pack their baskets with goodies that go beyond the basic chocolate bunnies and cream eggs, look no further than these sweet Easter gifts.

Activities

Spring cleaning: How to get your kids to help

Has the streaming sunshine illuminated your household's cobwebs and dust? We asked parents how they get their kids involved in spring cleaning.

If you wish that spring cleaning and general tidiness was more of a family activity, try these reader-approved methods to get your kids to pick up after themselves.

“We designate boxes for hard toys, big soft toys and small soft toys. Then we stand as far away as possible and try to throw the toys into the correct boxes.”
— Amanda Titus, Calgary, AB.

“Music! Dusting is way more fun when you can wiggle.”
— Michelle Patry, Kingston, ON.

“To clean our toy room, we use play walkie-talkies and pretend we’re cleaning elves. While we tidy, we talk to each other like secret spies.”
— Ashley Peden Van Bakel, Bradford, ON.

“No kids allowed! Spring cleaning is just for me. It’s an opportunity to have some time to myself and get a whole lot of junk purged from our house.”
— Ashley Sparkman, Kingston, ON.

“My kids like to pretend that they’re pioneers, so it’s easy to assign them chores that encourage their imagination.”
— Jennifer Rosenitsch Tobin, Whitby, ON. 

“I sing a cleanup song, or I tell my two-year-old we’re having a tidy-up race and need to pick up all the toys.”
— Kimberly Hodgson, Laval, Que.

“My son loves the dusting mitt and helping me spray window cleaner. Cleaning time for us means new ‘toys’ for him.”
— Kelsey Tourigny, Meadow Lake, Sask.

“We pretend to be Cinderella, and the evil stepmother and sisters will be mad if we don’t get the work done.”
— Marcie Moody-Lebert, Binbrook, ON.

“I make it fun for my kids by sending them to Grandma’s.”
— Vanessa Antoniuk, Edmonton, AB.

“When cleaning up a bunch of toys, I secretly pick a ‘magic item.’ The kids then rush around trying to tidy as many things as possible in the hope of putting away the one I chose. At the end, whoever tidied up the magic item wins a prize.”
— Nicole Truman Hall, Oakville, ON.

“We have contests to see who can clean the fastest, or we count out loud to see how long it takes us to tidy a certain area.”
— Carla Vegnaduzzo-Dawson, Hamilton, ON.

A version of this article appeared in our May 2013 issue of Today’s Parent with the headline “Clean sweep,” p. 22.

Activities

50 fun family spring activities

Shake off the winter blues and try any of these fun, spring activities that will have you and the kiddos enjoying the fresh air.

Activities

12 Nugget couch alternatives for parents who want one now

If you don't have the lightning-fast reflexes to nab a Nugget Comfort couch, you can get your hands on one of these just-as-fun alternatives.

If you’ve got kids in the house and an Instagram addiction, you’ve likely heard of the elusive Nugget play couch, the unicorn of the children’s furniture world. The versatile, modular sofa lets little ones get creative by building elaborate forts and gives them a comfy spot to lounge on movie nights. Once the pandemic hit, you probably even considered trying to get your hands on a Nugget—only to discover that securing one depends on winning a lottery and the competition is fierce. But  guess what? There are other versions available that are just as fun and far less stressful (virtual school aged us enough for one year, TYVM). Check out our favourite Nugget alternatives below:

The Whatsit Kids Foam Sofa

Photo of a modular kids couch set up as two chairs on a rug

Photo: Wayfair

Let your kids get creative with this modular sofa, and when they’re done playing, they can configure it into their own separate chairs for quiet time. Plus, the slip covers are machine washable!
$520, wayfair.ca

My Puffin Play Couch

Photo of two kids crawling through a tunnel made by two cushions from aplay couch

Photo: My Puffin

This play couch is made to last with durable fabric covers that are meant to withstand the hard knocks of playtime. Plus, the strong zippers are covered by fabric to stop kids from getting hurt while they play.
$499, mypuffin.ca

The Joey

Photo of a yellow play couch on a rug

Photo: Chew Chew Baby Roo

The half moon pillow that comes with this set is the perfect arm rest, and if you want to give kids even more options, Chew Chew Baby Roo offers extra cushion sets with different shapes like half-circle rockers, trapezoids and triangular wedges.
$300, chewchewbabyroo.com

The Nest

Photo of a young kid reading a book on a play couch arranged to look like a throne

Photo: Stylized Nest

This luxury play couch is 100% made in Canada and comes with two extra large rainbow bolsters that are super versatile. You can use them with the stacking cushions for all kinds of builds, but they’re just as good on their own as a seat, a footrest or a super fun rocker!

$598, stylizednest.com

My Couchy Couch

Photo of a play couch set up in a living room

Photo: My Couchy Couch

The cushions on the My Couchy are shaped like flat-top trapezoids rather than full triangles, which are great for added comfort and versatility!
$349, mycouchy.com

The Cushy Couch

Photo of a family lounging and reading books on a modular play couch

Photo: Cushy Couch

Available in eight chic colours, the Cushy Couch goes perfectly with any decor. They also offer an expansion kit for even more cushy fun!
$399, cushycouch.ca

The Figgy

Photo of a modular play couch

Photo: Shenanigan Kids

The cushions on this play couch easily velcro together to create all kinds of configurations. Plus, the cushion covers have built-in waterproof liners for mess-free play. Keep an eye out for Canadian shipping to become available later this year.
$279 US, shenanigankids.com

Jaxx Zipline Playscape

Photo of two kids playing on a modular play couch set up like a space ship

Photo: Jaxx

The perfect addition to any playroom, the Zipline Playscape is available in eight vibrant colours that will have your kids’ imaginations running wild!
$295 US, jaxxbeanbags.com

IGLU Soft Play Shapes Activity Toys

Photo of a foam play area

Photo: Amazon

These anti-slip blocks are as easy to clean as they are likely to stoke the creativity of your little ones, who can climb, build or just lounge around.
$290, amazon.ca

SoftScape Climber

Photo of a foam play area with a tunnel

Photo: Wayfair

What kid doesn’t love crawling through a tunnel? This play set is the perfect way for little climbers to get their energy out in a soft and safe environment.
$422, wayfair.ca

Milliard Tri-Fold foam folding mattress

Photo of a toddler sitting on a foldable cushion couch

Photo: Amazon

Available in four different mattress sizes, this clever design folds to create a couch with a back cushion. Kids can use it as a play mat or a sofa, and when guests pop by the larger sizes double as a bed.
$63-$206, amazon.ca

IKEA SLÄKT folding mattress

Photo of a foldable mattress

Photo: Ikea

This easy-to-store mattress is perfect for movie night and doubles as a mattress for sleepovers. We suspect crafty kids could also MacGyver some kind of fort with a few extra props.
$99, ikea.com