This type of tactile exploration and unbridled artistic flair is incredible for developing a child's creativity and fine-motor skills, unfortunately, many commercially available craft supplies aren't so great from an environmental perspective. Foam cutout shapes, synthetic fabrics, plastic beads - it's a bummer to think of a simple craft doing more harm than good.
It is possible to balance a child's natural inclination to create, with the natural world around us. Here's some great ideas to get you started.
1. Plant-based paints. Using plant-based paints that get their pigment from natural fruit, vegetable and mineral sources means less exposure to harmful chemicals for your children - especially if they are young and prone to eating the paint as much as painting with it. Using these nature-loving paints also means that when junior's masterpieces threaten to take over the fridge, you can compost the paper and know that nothing nasty is going back into your soil.
2. Scavenged Supplies. Rather than heading to the craft store, take a look around your backyard when tackling your next project. Small twigs can stand in for popsicle sticks, sand can be a more natural substitute for glitter. Dried flowers, pine needles, and leaves can all become a versatile and never-ending craft supply cabinet for creative little ones. By sourcing your supplies naturally you avoid the cost, waste, and packaging of traditional craft supplies, as well as creating a more natural and tactile experience for your children.
3. Crafts that do good. Sometimes craft time is a great way to occupy busy hands for a few moments, but it can easily become about more than just busywork. Crafts that benefit nature allow children to give back - like this tutorial for a simple pinecone bird feeder by Green Child. I made a few of these with my two-year-old daughter a few weeks ago and the process was super simple, and she loved playing with the seeds and looking out the living room window each day to see if the birds were eating our creations. Other ideas include making seed bombs and creating/decorating window shadows to deter birds from glassy accidents.
4. Rock out. Kids love rocks - they're small, easy to pocket and unbreakable - in short, the perfect toy! Indulge their inner rock collector by heading out to collect a bucket full of smooth rocks or pebbles, and turn them into crafts. Paint them like animals or people (remember the pet rock craze of the 70's?) or turn them into the makings of a fun game as shown by Chicken Scratch NY.
5. Let them lead. We adults tend to over think and over plan, we forget that children are born creators. They don't distinguish between specially designated craft supplies and the world around them (as is readily apparent to anyone who has ever discovered an impromptu art project decorating a wall or sofa). Take your child on a walk and let them take the lead in discovering materials, and deciding what to make with them. Sometimes all we need to do is let go, and just see what happens next!