At Forest School we're always seeking out ways to use natural materials to reduce the environmental impact of the activities that we do. Some of our everyday methods involve:
Re-using cardboard from boxes, or fabric from sheets
Scavenging pens and pencils from neighbour's overflowing drawers
Buying cardstock with a high recycled content
Buying wood that is Forest Stewardship Council certified (our wooden playground is from local, certified wood for example)
Using up everything
Avoiding plastic, acrylics and felt tip pens
Using Ecover cleaning products
We also know that children love colour and texture and they love to draw and paint. So how can we provide these experiences for the children in a way which reduces the impact on the environment? We have some lovely activities for you to try at home in this blog. All require some preparation and gathering materials in advance.
Activity 1: Making nature paintbrushes
Children possess an innate interest towards painting experiences, whether with a paintbrush or hands, painting provides amazing sensorial inputs for them. We absolutely resonate with that love because we just love getting stuck in with the children during our sessions!
To make children’s painting experiences at home a little more uniquely theirs, invite them to experiment with making natural paintbrushes! We've tried this activity at Forest School several times now and we know what works well and what doesn't, perhaps you can experiment and find out?
You Will Need:
Strong, straight sticks for handles
Something to tie with (ribbon, elastics, string - try and find something you can reuse)
Natural items for bristles
STEP 1: Take a stroll about outdoors in the spaces available to you, ideally a private estate or garden. Collect a handful of fallen strong sticks for the brush handle, and smaller twigs, leaves, flowers, dry grasses and other natural materials you can find.
STEP 2: When you get home, bunch natural materials around the end of a stick, and find some old packaging ribbon or the string handles of shopping bags and use this to secure the 'bristles' to the 'handle' securely.
STEP 3: Trim your brushes and experiment with the different effects! Which one worked best? Which one worked the least well? The process of discovering is what matters most, not the final outcome.
If you've used natural paints these brushes can be given back to nature when you've finished.
Activity 2: Create your own natural paints
An experience becomes even more meaningful to children when they can get involved in the process. So besides making natural paintbrushes, why not also have them create paint from scratch? This experience is not only tactile, but it can also promote the use of children’s olfactory sense; otherwise known as the sense of smell. As you invite your children to engage in this exploration together, you may wish to ask them some questions to provoke their thought process.
What colours would you like to make?
How can we extract natural colours?
You Will Need:
A base for your paint. We prefer powdered mineral clay (white (Kaolin) or pale grey will work), or you could use powdered chalk. If you use flour, paints will deteriorate faster and have a gloopy texture. You can find all sorts of natural powders available to buy online from places like Shopee and Lazada.
Spoons or small whisks for mixing
Empty plastic bottles, such as the small plastic bottles acrylic paints come in, to store left over paint
Your natural paintbrush
Some light coloured fabric to paint on salvaged from old school uniform shirts or bedsheets
Powdered pigments: we love to use these natural pigment powders to make our clay paints. Almost anything can be purchased dehydrated and in powdered form these days!:
Blue Pea flower (blue)
Purple sweet potato (purple)
Paprika (rusty red)
Spirulina or spinach (green)
Clove or coffee grounds (brown)
Mix up the paints with your child and show pictures of the natural item that the pigments came from. Explain how the paints are precious and we only use what we need.
How do you think people in the past made their paints back in the days before chemicals and plastics?
How did the Egyptians paint their temples, or tribes paint their totems?
Is the paint safe to use to paint our faces?
How do the paints smell? Can you smell the natural item that they came from?
How can we discard of the paint safely?
Do we think the bright colours will stay bright forever?
Have fun painting!
Activity 3: Make Chalk Paints with Discarded Chalk
We are always left with small stubbs of chalk (and perhaps at home you have some sitting around and you're not sure what to do with them) so we have devised a way to make use of them as another painting medium which benefits the children's learning and development as well.
You Will Need:
Paint base such as powdered clay or cornstarch
Brush and water
Strong plastic shopping bag (or re-use a ziplock) and rolling pin, or
A pestle and mortar
Muffin / cupcake baking tray
This activity is as much about making the paints as it is painting with them.
STEP 1: Sort the chalks into colours. You can use the muffin tray for this.
STEP 2: Use the plastic bag and rolling pin, or pestle and mortar, to crush the chalks into powders one colour at a time. Engaging in the pounding and crushing process of the chalk into powder encourages the development of children’s eye-hand coordination and fine motor strength.
STEP 3: Mix the powder, base and water together to make the paint
STEP 4: Find something to paint! We love painting the concrete pathway lovely colours, knowing that the rain can wash it away clean ands the chalk, flour and water wont harm the environment. Big painting like this engages the whole body increasing the value of the experience.
“The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.”
We hope you have enjoyed your environmentally friendly exploration with colours! Here is some recommended reading to go along with your colourful adventure:
We hope you have enjoyed these activities! if you have a go at any of them please do take a photo for us so that we can share with our community. Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp to 82992305.
Celine joins Wildlings after working with a variety of prestigious Reggio Emilia institutions in Singapore. Celine is passionate about empowering children in child-led settings and believes all children are unique and competent learners.
Celine is an ultimate frisbee fan and has enjoyed taking children on international camps abroad, including to far flung places like Karuizawa in Japan!