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How to Start & Organize a Nature Collection

If you’ve been around these parts, you’ll know that we have a fondness for nature activities 😉 

Most rooms in our house host some type of nature collection — shells, rocks, tree seeds, leaves in the Fall, etc.

And many of these were started on the fly — a trip to the beach, a vacation in the mountains — kids are just drawn to natural items.

Collecting is such a great STEM activity & teaches kids so much about categorizing, sorting and observing — I try to allow as much of it as possible.  But as the items accumulate, sooner or later you have to give it a little ‘structure’.

Since “small is the new black” for kids, it’s always fun to find a creative way for them to carry around their collection (they love to show it to friends and family 😉 

So today’s activity is a frugal upcycle that will help to organize that nature collection!


Start & Organize a Nature Collection

Our goal for this collection display is to use recycled materails from around the house to create a mini nature display. 

I love the small size of these collections as they’re easy to transport to school for show & tell.  They also look great if you have a handful of them stacked together on a shelf.

And a big plus — there’s a creative component to it too!


Tips for Kids on how to Start & Organize a Nature Collection | Great upcycled DIY Craft

You’ll only need a few items for this project and I’ll bet you have them around the house:

• newspaper

• a stiff postcard or cardboard flyer you receive in the mail

• an Altoid or other small metal container

• tape

• small section of white paper (you can use the back of an old letter or piece of mail)

• colored markers


Tips for Kids on how to Start & Organize a Nature Collection | Great upcycled DIY Craft

First, ask the kids to lay out the items in their nature collection. 

We had a small set of shells from one of our beach visits and also a set of rocks & agates we collected on a trip to Minnesota.  It’s important to get an idea of how many items will fit in your container and how big your individual sections should be as you create the collection bin.


Tips for Kids on how to Start & Organize a Nature Collection | Great upcycled DIY Craft

Then we took a piece of newspaper and doubled it up (don’t fold over more than once as your container many not close). 

We only wanted to cover the top of the container so we folded it around the inside of the top, trimmed it to fit and taped it in place.


Tips for Kids on how to Start & Organize a Nature Collection | Great upcycled DIY Craft

Now, the CREATIVE side of things — let the kids decorate the top of their collection box!

Using newsprint allows the markers to show up nicely when they draw a picture or words across the top.


Tips for Kids on how to Start & Organize a Nature Collection | Great upcycled DIY Craft

Next, cut the postcard/cardboard flyer into strips that will fit into your container when folded. 

We cut one long strip, folded it in a zig-zag way to fit inside the container and then cut notches into the strip so we could easily slide in other pieces of the postcard.  This helps to create the small sections for your collection and allows you to custom-fit any of your items into individual sections.


Tips for Kids on how to Start & Organize a Nature Collection | Great upcycled DIY Craft

Last, trace the bottom of the container on a sheet of white paper and tape or glue it to the inside cover. Be sure to trace the bottom of the tin — if you trace the cover, the paper will be slightly off.

This is a great place for kids to list what items are included in their collection or where they found the items, for example the name of the beach you visited to collect your shells.



And of course, you’ll probably need a book or guide to help identify all the nature finds! 

Here are a few of our favorite natural item guides along with affiliate links so you can learn more about each of them:

We really like the Pocket Genius series of books!  Their small size makes them easy to take with you when you’re rock-hounding or shell-hunting.  Try the Pocket Genius: Rocks and Minerals for rock collecting.

Another favorite series for nature identification are the Take Along Guides.  We LOVE the drawn illustrations in these books and facts that we learn about so many natural items.  For shell collectors, see the Seashells, Crabs and Sea Stars: Take-Along Guide (Take Along Guides) .



If you’re looking for books that cover the broader subject of nature collections, here are two that I would highly recommend:

Cabinet of Curiosities: Collecting and Understanding the Wonders of the Natural World was written by a life-long nature collector and has tons of ideas for storing and displaying nature collections.

The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms prompts kids to observe and record all types of nature & science events that happen in daily life.  It’s a great inspiration for getting kids to write too.



nature activites for kids

Looking for more Nature Activities?  Try these!

Create Your Own Nature Notebook

12 Citizen Science Projects for Kids



 Science Activities for Kids

And join the 28 Days of Hands-on STEM Activities hosted by Left Brain, Craft Brain this month! 

Every day, you can find new activities that cover science, technology, engineering and math perfect for kids from preschool thru middle school!