Natural Resources in the Early Years


In recent years, there has been a huge emphasis on using Natural Resources in the Early Years.

The reasons for this are simple. Moving away from an emphasis and reliance on plastic materials is not only good for the environment, it’s also cheaper, produces less waste, and is very engaging and inspiring for children. Best of all, since natural materials, especially in our outdoor environments, change all the time, there is a natural sense of movement and difference that we can take advantage of as educators – in a way, the activities plan themselves. At Mrs Mactivity, we are convinced that wooden and natural resources are more likely to result in creative play and activity for children, as children have to be naturally more curious and and open minded in how they play. Play is less prescribed and is more about the children’s own interests and natural creativity. Coupled with this is more of a need for fine and gross motor skills as the children manipulate and explore items with all their senses, and the open ended play that ensues.

Things you will need for a more natural approach to Early Years

  • twigs of all shapes and sizes. Children love collecting these and there’s so much you can do with them!
  • leaves – again collect a variety from each season, and from each type of tree. Children can compare them, and use them for craft and art activities. Our Autumn Leaf Hedgehog is a great example of this.
Leaf Hedgehog Template
Leaf Hedgehog Template
  • branches – again, from a variety of trees
  • pebbles
  • hessian as a backing material for walls. Or for creating artwork on. We also have our own range of hessian style display resources here.
Characteristics of effective learning hessian display pack
Characteristics of effective learning hessian display pack
  • seeds, for counting, planting and as an art material. Choose a variety of all shapes and sizes including for plants, fruit and vegetables.
  • shells – children love collecting shells at the seaside and there’s something intrinsically interesting about them as they have a variety of textures, colours and patterns.
  • pine cones – obviously these may come under there seasonal category, but these are great for children as there is so much you can do with them! Make Christmas decorations from them, turn them into characters from stories, use them in a size ordering activity, or just for general investigation.
  • conkers are great for making into transient art, counting, weighing, comparing, feeling…
  • cable reels can be easily got from local builders merchants either for free or very cheaply, and can be made into stools, tables for tuff trays or as fairy toadstools.
  • palates can be used for stacking, creating, making forts and loads of other things too! Children love using their gross motor skills – including balancing, lifting, climbing – to play with palates and crates.

Early Years Loose Parts Resources

For more ideas, you can take a look at our Loose Parts Checklist too!

Examples of Loose Parts

This loose parts list will give you loads of inspiration and ideas and the great thing is – not only do the children learn and enjoy, but this approach also cuts planning and preparation too! Since you can just leave the resources in situ.

If you are looking for something slightly more structured, we have a range of natural provocation plans inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach that have been very popular including:-

Stick People Transient Art Plan

This focus plan uses natural items in the outdoor environment. Click here to explore.Stick man lesson plan eyfs

Early Years Transient Art Resources

We also have a series of provocations including a transient art provocation. Using natural items.Aistear transient art and maths plan

Early Years Weighing and Sorting Resources

A weighing and sorting activity – again using natural, everyday materials.

Reggio Emilia inspired weighing provocation
Reggio Emilia inspired weighing provocation

Early Years Playdough Resources

And a playdough provocation plan – a very creative activity using all natural resources.

Natural PLaydough ideas
We also have some other inspirational ideas for natural and loose parts play in Early Years. Use everyday items to inspire children to create works of art using their natural curiosity.
early years transient art
early years transient art

Use natural objects in the environment to ask children to sort, weigh, measure, create! Baskets are great for this and are also a natural object in themselves.

Weighing and sorting natural play ideas
Weighing and sorting natural play ideas

For more ideas and inspiration, explore our Calm and Natural Resource Range.

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We love how @primarypurposefulplay  has used our alphabet road tracing activity!