South Dakota Game Fish & Parks Children in Nature

Last Updated by Laura Dimock on

Sept. 2017 | Seasons turn quickly in South Dakota, so you’ve always got to be prepared for what’s next. Be ready when the leaves fall with these nature activities. They are a great way for kids to explore textures and patterns of nature in a fun open-ended and hands-on way.

Pinecone Painting

You’ll need:

  • Pine cones (variety of sizes)
  • Variety of color of tempera paint
  • Paper
  • A large cardboard box (copy paper box lid works great!)

Make it:

  • Go out on a nature walk, collecting pine cones (variety of sizes, open and closed pinecones).
  • Put the paper in the bottom of the box.
  • Squirt a little paint on the corners of the paper.
  • Add in the pinecones.
  • Tipping the box, gently roll the pinecones in all directions, careful not to let them fall out of the box.
  • Keep rolling until the artist is satisfied. Let dry and display.

Nature's Paintbrush

You’ll need:

  • Variety of evergreens, flowers, leaves, grass, etc.
  • Short twigs
  • Rubber bands
  • Variety of color of tempera paint
  • White paper
  • A muffin tray or paint tray or plate

Make it:

  • Talk about painting with a brush (how a brush works and strokes of the bristles). Tell them to think about what kind of pieces of nature that might be a good paint brush.
  • Go on a nature walk. See what interesting things you can find, like twigs, leaves, flower, evergreens, and grass, that would work well for a paint brush. Look for different textures and patterns.
  • Some smaller items may need to be rubber-banded to a twig to make it easier to use. TIP: To avoid breaking your pieces of nature put the rubber band onto the stick first and then slide your piece of nature into the bands. Make sure the elastic bands aren’t too tight. You may need more than one band to keep your nature in place.
  • Start out by dipping items in the paint, then making prints on white paper. Explore the different patterns and textures each of the paintbrushes can create.
  • After making prints with the various materials, they may decide on another tactic — just painting with what they collected.
  • When done, let dry and display.
  • Have fun, get messy and explore!

Leaf Creatures

You’ll need:

  • Variety of leaves
  • Glue
  • Markers
  • Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert (optional)
  • Wiggle eyes
  • Mod Podge

Make it:

1) If you have it, read Leaf Man (if not, skip to step #2!)

Before reading the title, have children spend a few minutes looking at the cover illustration. Turn the book to all sides. Ask: What do you see in the picture? (leaves, acorns, seed pods). Can you find a hidden picture? (Yes, the leaves and seed pods make a picture of a person.)

Read the book title Leaf Man. During Reading:

Turn to the inside cover page. Ask children if they recognize any of the leaves pictured and let them share where they may have seen them. Read the names of the leaf as you point to each one.

As you read the text of the story, pause to give children time to scan the pictures to look for hidden images formed by the leaves blowing across the page. Ask: What do you see in this picture?

See if children can find the following images as you move through the book. You can even list them beforehand on chart paper (out of order) and check them off as children discover them.








Fruit trees








As you come across more difficult vocabulary in the text, define the words in child-friendly terms:

Vocabulary Definitions

  • marsh: an area of land that is very wet and soft
  • orchard: a group of trees planted together
  • prairie: a large area of land covered with long grasses
  • flock: a large group of birds
  • rustle: a soft crackling sound

2) Create a Leaf pictures

Take children on a nature walk to collect leaves in the yard or around the neighborhood. Tell children to be on the lookout for leaf people or other leaf pictures they might see as they collect their leaves.

Once back at home, have children place their leaves inside the pages of (or under) heavy books or a leaf pressing device.

Use the pressed leaves to make leaf pictures.

Let the children make animals or leaf people with the pressed leaves and wiggly eyes.  

Have children spread glue on the back of the leaves (or use glue dots) and then press them onto the paper. After the glue has dried, brush a coat of Mod Podge over the entire collage to seal the leaves.

Fall frolicking

Fitness for kids should be filled with fun. Here are some easy ideas that don’t require a lot of supplies or planning:

  • Make a sidewalk chalk game board with motions to complete when landing on each spot.
  • Turn your backyard into an obstacle course.
  • Use a stopwatch and turn everyday activities, like picking up toys, into a race.
  • Add balloons. Balloons make everything more fun! They are inexpensive and are perfect for relay races, making a game of keeping them from touching the floor, etc.

FIT tip from Sanford and WebMDfit tip

It might not be summer, but be sure you make time to get outside. Playing, hiking, and biking in the sunshine helps your body make Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps you feel energized. If you feel engergized, you can play longer!


This month's activities brought to you by

Heidi Senulis, Custer State Park

Heidi is a naturalist at Custer State Park. She enjoys sharing the world of plants and wildlife with the spring and summer visitors of this park.

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