The following post was written by Sally Mason , who blogs at Little Hiccups  and is part of POPSUGAR Select Moms .
If your kids are anything like mine then you probably have a large collection of natural "treasures" floating around in your handbag. Each time I reach into mine, I inevitably pull out a tiny pinecone, gumnut, dried leaf, wilted flower, or other such piece of nature that the kids have collected from the park. They just love collecting and are always asking to make something with their treasures.
The flowers and leaves are always too far gone to use for anything by the time I find them, but the pinecones and gumnuts last for years, so we've been slowly accruing a collection of them to use for a craft project one day. Well, that one day has finally come, and I came up with a simple craft project for the kids. We had noticed that the gumnuts have an interesting star-shaped pattern in their center. I just knew that this pattern would look great pressed into clay, so we grabbed a pack of clay from our local art store and got to work.
Pressing the gumnuts and pinecones into clay kept the kids busy for quite some time, and they loved seeing the resulting shapes. The gumnuts made star and cross shapes — even some that looked like butterflies, according to my 3-year-old. The pinecones, especially the fresh, green ones, left interesting, almost woven-looking patterns.
My kids were keen to paint their creations once they were baked, although I personally liked them left plain white. This was the kids' project though, so we went ahead with painting them in the colors that they had chosen.
If your kids, like mine, have a collection of natural treasures, this is a fun craft to keep them occupied for hours. And the best bit? Pressing the gumnuts and pinecones into the clay doesn't damage them, so the kids won't have to give up their "treasures" to create something artistic with them.
Here's a look at how we made our nature impressions in clay.
What You'll Need
- Pinecones, gumnuts, sticks, or other natural treasures that your kids have collected
- Sculpey UltraLight Clay
- Acrylic paint
Step OneRoll the Sculpey Clay into small balls approximately 3/4 inch across.
Step TwoCarefully press a gumnut or pinecone into the center of the clay ball. Make sure you press down hard enough to flatten the clay into a round disk, but not so hard that it pushes all the way through. For the small fresh pinecones, we rolled them a little across the ball of clay while pressing down to flatten them. This ensured that the pattern was created evenly across the clay.
Step ThreeOnce you're done stamping, it's time to bake the clay. Preheat the oven to 275°F (130°C). Transfer the clay disks onto a baking tray covered with parchment paper.
Step FourPlace the baking tray in the oven, and bake for 15 minutes per 1/4 inch (6 millimeter) of thickness, as per the instructions on the Sculpey pack.
Step FiveOnce the clay has baked, allow it to cool completely. Once the pieces are cool, your kids can get to work decorating their clay impressions with acrylic paint.
And there you have it, nature impressions in clay, ready to use in any way you like. We'll be using ours as fridge magnets, pendants for jewelry, game pieces, and even play money!
Tip: if your kids are a little young for this project but are still keen on collecting little natural treasures, you could set up a play station with play dough instead.