Inside: Want to improve the balance and the coordination between both sides of the brain? Put aside plastic toys and create a collage with natural materials.
Are you tired of plastic, flashy, noisy things that pass for toys these days? Then it’s time to encourage your children to start playing with natural materials like sticks, stones, sand, mud, puddles, leaves, and pinecones. Not only is the natural world full of inspiration, but it will also help your children to promote right and left brain integration.
Scroll down to the activity or hang on to read about left brain-math brain misconception.
Right Brain – Left Brain
It was once believed that mathematics belonged to the more rational “left-brain” and art was in the realm of emotional “right-brain” activity. With scientific advancement, we learned that the brain is not nearly as divided as once was thought, and the pathways in the brain connect and overlap. But the latest research is even more surprising.
The U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences looked at three groups of kids doing pattern tasks. One group included mathematically gifted teens, the second group had average math ability teens, and the third group consisted of college students. Researchers concluded that kids who performed better than average in math were better at integrating both sides of the brain. In other words, math is not a left side of the brain activity but a whole brain activity.
If you want to be better at math, you need more cooperation and integration between the two sides of the brain.
This is great news because there are so many wonderful activities that merge the right and the left brain. Just remember that math is more than manipulating numbers and art is more than painting, music, literature, and dance.
In this activity, we will be creating symmetrical art. Symmetry is not only one of the core mathematical concepts, but it also is a thoroughly fascinating area of exploration. Honeycombs, sunflowers, butterflies, your puppy, spider webs, and snowflakes are all examples of beautiful symmetry in the natural world. Long after this project is over, your kids will be pointing out symmetry in the world around you.
Teach Symmetry with Backyard Nature Collage
Before you do the activity, go on a long, leisurely nature walk to collect the collage materials: twigs, stones, sticks, grass, leaves, pine cones, tree bark, and whatever else attracts your kids’ interest.
Depending on the time of year, there might be many beautiful flowers in bloom right now, but if you want to create a collage that will last for a long time, leave them be.
Strong glue, like wood glue
The base to which everything will be glued (a shoebox cover, a sturdy piece of cardboard, or an old picture frame*)
Leaves, twigs, mulch, pine cones, grass, etc
Puffy paint, fabric scraps, colored paper, scissors (optional)
A magnifying glass (optional)
- NOTE: We used a piece of cardboard painted black for our background. If you choose to do so, paint it now and let it dry overnight.
What to do
Put your finds on the table and study them (maybe even with a magnifying glass).
Mention that if you take an object, bend it in two and one side mirrors the other side, you have symmetry. Invite kids to pick up different materials and tell you if they are symmetrical or not.
The line of symmetry is that line that divides an object in two. Sometimes you need to imagine that line.
A pine cone has more than one line of symmetry.
If your kids are older, you can study the types of symmetry together: radial, bilateral, and spherical. It’s fascinating!
Backyard Nature Collage
Now tape a ribbon down the middle of your workspace and practice creating symmetrical images. My older son created a Star Wars scene.
He used blue glass beads for the sky as we couldn’t find anything on our walk that is naturally blue.
My daughter did her collage in between dips in the kiddy pool.
For her second project, my daughter wanted to use dried grass and apple tree twigs to create something that she could give to her daddy on Father’s Day. She wanted it to be something with flowers (but not real flowers as they wouldn’t last till Father’s Day). After a bit of deliberation, we decided that yarn (100% wool), fabric (100% cotton), and paper (trees) are all natural things and we could use them in our project.
The fastest way to make her flowers was to pick some scraps of fabric, fold them to the desired size, and sew with a needle through the middle to keep it all together. As you can see on the photo below, the flowers are not perfect, but my daughter was very pleased with the results.
Do you want more detailed instructions on how we made my daughter’s collage? You can find them in the next section. Otherwise, just let the children explore the materials freely. Let them use their imaginations and create their little masterpieces any way they want.
Symmetrical Nature Inspired Collage for Father’s Day
Remember to divide the workspace in half and only do one half at a time for symmetry practice. I helped my daughter do the right half, and then she did the second half on her own (with a bit of help for a butterfly and flowers).
We used a piece of cardboard painted black for our background. If you choose to do so, paint now and let it dry overnight.
- Create sky. My daughter made a purple sky with puffy paint. You can use white cotton balls instead.
- Cover the bottom of the page with glue and attach some dried grass to it. We used wood glue because we know from experience that school glue doesn’t get the job done.
- Break a twig in small sections and glue them on.
- Glue on the flowers you made from fabric.
- Make a butterfly by cutting a butterfly shape out of colored paper. Fold the butterfly in two and cover just one side of it with paint. Then close the wings together to create a mirror image.
- If your butterfly is very small, use tweezers to attach the butterfly to a glob of glue on your masterpiece.
- Now invite your kids to create the other half independently.
- Hang it on the wall or give it to someone special.
Share what you made with us on Facebook.
This Nature Collage/ Symmetry Lesson is part of a month-long series on taking STEM outdoors!
Check out all the fantastic STEM ideas and activities here.