Summer Art Activities: Creating With Nature

Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature. – Marcus Tullius Cicero

And nature provides us another medium with which to create artwork, especially in summer. This post is part of a series of posts by the Art Ed Blogger’s Network and the topic today is Summer Art Activities.

When I think about art making in the summer I do so from personal experience with the perspective of a teacher with the summer off to a parent looking for ways to keep a child actively thinking and creating during the school-free summer months. Summer is pottery time for me because I have a clay studio in an old barn which is not heated, so here in New England, I can only use it the warm months. The clay process demands attention at certain intervals, often of different duration, so time off in summer is perfect for this work.

Summer pottery

With children, combining the carefree days of summer with nature is a recipe for creativity, expression, and (don’t tell them) learning. When my son was seven and I was transitioning to teaching from a career in printing, I hosted six children for an art-based daycare for six weeks in the summer. We would take field trips all over New England to draw and paint on-site. When at home, the children created their own backyard community based on the book Roxaboxen by Alice McClerren with illustrations by Barbara Cooney:

To set up our Roxaboxen, we collected giant quahog shells at Sand Hill Cove in RI, pinecones in the yard, and rocks rounded by sand and salt in Rockport, MA and used them to line the “streets” and define territories. With hammers and nails, the children created seats and tables with old wood scraps and corn crates. They made items to sell and created their own leaf currency for the transactions. They wrote letters to each other and dropped them in the mail box for delivery. They washed “dishes” and hung the towels to dry on a shared clothesline. They helped each other and visited when the work was done. This is how they whiled away the down-time moments of the summer of 1997 and were sad to leave it behind when summer was over.

Doing “dishes”


Working together to set up Roxaboxen
Setting up the Roxaboxen

Learning through play in this child-centered mini-community provided hours of cooperative social interaction and opportunities for problem-solving and creativity. Through their exploration of nature and utilization of the natural materials they had discovered, the children enjoyed meaningful experiential learning and observed the world around them as abundant with resources and possibility.

Using nature to create and make one’s visions reality is inventive and empowering. Over the past few weeks, my after-school art club has had an opportunity to create with branches, sticks, and twigs left behind when trees were felled for a green project (solar powered windmill to generate electricity to automatically water a garden bed) in our courtyard at school. As the students worked to bring new life to the discarded wood, I saw in them the same spark of creativity and purpose I had witnessed with the backyard Roxaboxen project.

Felled trees
Choosing branches for building

After careful selection, we brought the sticks inside and the kids used clippers to cut them to size. We used glue guns and experimented with lashing with twine to fasten them together.

Some of the children worked alone, some worked with a partner, others worked in a group.

Gianni, Alysse, Will, Mirabella, and Alyssa worked together to build a tree house with ladders and a swing
The old tree house

Kylie and Kayla worked together to make a hanging plant basket

Mirabella with her bird and birds nest

Allie with her boat
Tristan and his dream catcher
Alysse’s star wand
Peyton’s mushroom
Baby Dil on Kelsey’s swing
The 5/6 Art Club with their creations

I’m writing this post with two weeks left of school. Beyond the calendar, I know this because in the quiet moments my mind is full with end-of-the-year tasks like grading, inventory, and cleaning the art room.  My classes have projects to finish and just a few more classes to do so. And then it will be summer.

My hope for my students is for time to stretch and explore. Time to call the shots on how they spend their time. Time to be bored and through boredom discover something they’ve never noticed before, hopefully in nature. As our man Cicero said, “Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature”… and so is time well spent. Happy summer!

This post is a part of The Art Ed Blogger’s Network: Monthly Tips and Inspiration from Art Teacher Blogs. On the second Tuesday each month, each of these art teacher blogs will post their best ideas on the same topic.

Participating Art Teacher Blogs:

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