Skip to Content

Sandpaper Science: Take a Peek Inside Nature

Sometimes the weather makes it difficult to connect with nature.

And the winter months present several challenges — nature is no longer in ‘full bloom’ and cold weather has set in which usually means less time outside.

But I love a good challenge 😉

Whatever the weather, I think it’s important to encourage the kids to learn about the world around us. 

Plus, there’s all those amazing benefits toconnecting with nature whether you are inside or outside – increased creativity and problem-solving, enhanced performance at school, improved eyesight, lower stress — we all need a bit of nature in our day. 

So today, let’s take a peek inside nature with this easy INDOOR science activity.



Sandpaper Science:  A Peek Inside Nature

I think every kid in the world loves to collect small items from nature:  pinecones, rocks, seashells, etc. 

They tuck them in their pockets (usually to be washed and found in the dryer 😉

And if you watch the kids carefully, you will see they love to examine their treasures —

is it hard or soft?

does it have ridges or is it smooth?

what color is the item?

So many things can be learned at first glance.

But today, we’re going to look a bit deeper and take a peek inside these natural treasures.


You’ll need a few things for today’s science project:

  • some of your favorite items from nature (rocks, seashells, coral, driftwood, pinecones, etc)
  • sandpaper (we used a few types – 80 grit which is pretty rough and 240 grit which is for more delicate items)
  • and if you have one on hand, grab a magnifying glass

We also have this really cool Pocket Microscope with Light(affiliate link) that you can buy for around $5 — it’s such a great tool to use with nature!  It allows kids to get a really nice close-up look (usually at 20x to 40x) and they have a built-in light which is what I was using to shine into the shells in the photos below. 


Nature items to explore for science

I’m sure you have some nature ‘treasures’ around the house – maybe from a previous vacation or a collection the kids started. 

We’re going to be sanding these which will cause them to be changed and create a few holes so just be warned to start with items that may not be “the absolute favorites” in your child’s eyes.


Using sandpaper to look inside seashells

Grab a piece of sandpaper and begin rubbing one of the items over the top of it. 

We used the 80 grit (course) sandpaper for seashells, rocks and coral.  In fact, we barely made any impression in our piece of coral — it’s pretty hard stuff.

High grit sandpaper (240 grit) will be finer and can be used with driftwood or smaller and lighter shells.


Looking inside a sea shell

A Peek Inside a Sea Shell

It may take a little while (we sanded for about 15 minutes) but you will be able to sand away some of the outside of a sea shell.  Once you do, use a flashlight or other small light to shine inside the shell. 

You can see that when we peek inside this cone shell, the ridges that show on the outside of the shell continue inside too!

The kids might also notice that when you sand a shell, you create a type of ‘chalk dust’ on the sandpaper.

Oh, and if you aren’t sure what type of shell you have, use this handy Seashell Identification guide to find out (I always have to look it up when the kids ask 😉


How to look inside a sea shell

When we sanded the top off this olive shell, we were clearly able to see the spiral design of the shell. I have no idea why they call this an ‘olive shell’?

Again, if you shine a light in the opening of a shell after you’ve sanded it, you will be able to take a nice peek inside.  You’ll be able to show the kids that the inside of most shells aren’t really ‘hollow’ — the shell sprials around as it gets larger.

I’m sure you’ll get some question like “How does the crab/snail fit inside the shell?”  While some of these small animals or crustaceans do live in the shell, others are larger and just carry the shell on their back.

If you have a child who’s crazy about shells and such, take a peek at our beach & shell activities.


 Peek inside a pinecone - nature science for kids

What about the inside of a pinecone? 

We couldn’t sand it so we used a sharp knife to slice it in half.  The cross-section of the pinecone will look differently depending on what variety you are observing.  You should be able to see how all the scales on the cone are attached.

And depending on the time of year (and type of pinecone – did you know there are male & female pinecones?!), you might also be able to see the seeds of the pinecone which would be located on the base of each scale at the center of the cone.


We also *attempted* to sand down some coral (boy, that stuff is super strong) and a piece of drift wood (which didn’t show much on the inside).  You could also use some stones (like limestone or a softer rock) or even a branch from the tree.


How do you explore nature in the winter?


Sandpaper science project for kids



You might also like:

DIY Nature Notebook with free printables

DIY Nature Notebook