Nature Art Party -7yr- Paper Tree Decorations
Holly in Albany, CA, USA
As the theme for her 7th birthday party, my daughter chose to combine two of her favorite things: Nature and Art. This combination made me think of green, both in the sense of the color like you would use for painting and other artwork, and in the sense of preserving the natural environment. It also made me think of summer camp activities! So with those themes in mind, away we went planning a jam-packed party.
INVITATION: We bought letter paper with a meadow scene - white grass, flowers and butterflies on a pale green background - and printed our invitation text on that using some fancy fonts and mostly brown ink. The invitations read Let’s Go Green! You’re invited to celebrate nature (printed in a font that looked like woodgrain) art (rainbow-colored calligraphy font) and L's 7th birthday! The place was given as Camp M- [our last name] and the RSVP section was for registration. The invitations also said we would hike the nature trail (walk to a local park from our house) then ‘return to camp for creative crafts and sweet treats. We mailed them using the new green design postage stamps, and envelope-seal stickers with a leaf on them.
DECORATIONS: In order to turn our house into a summer camp, we made some paper trees and some cardboard rustic wood furnishings. For the trees: Brown kraft paper (purchased by the roll at Home Depot, in the paint dept) crumpled up lengthwise (to give it a bark type texture), bunched and arranged against the archway between our living and dining rooms so that it looked like the trunk and branches of two trees (one on each side of the arch, fastened to the walls with masking tape underneath). And green bulletin board background paper (comes on a roll, from a craft store) on which we stamped tempera-paint leaves (using foam paint stamps we happened to own already) in a few different shades of green, and pasted on additional leaf shapes cut out of green construction paper with the edges allowed to curl away from the background paper, to give the whole thing the effect of more depth and a naturally irregular shape. We cut large oval-ish shapes of this paper out with a wavy edge and taped them the ceiling, above the brown paper branches, to look like the underside of the crown of leaves on the trees. These trees came out great and some of the moms said they wanted to do the same thing in their houses permanently!
We also used the smaller leftover pieces of green leaf-stamped paper at the bottom of some of our walls to look like underbrush. (Our house happens to be painted in greens and blues to start with, and has some tree/leaf decorations already, so it was very coordinated!) My kids then gathered all of their ‘wildlife’ stuffed animals and put them around the front rooms, with some birds and a snake in the trees, a squirrel peeking out by the base of a tree trunk, a raccoon by the front door, and so on. For the furniture, we drew woodgrain or bark type designs on cardboard, using a Sharpie, and rolled some strips of cardboard into cylinders (like logs) to put around the table legs. The tops of most of the tables were covered with the brown kraft paper, instead of the typical party tablecloth; we had a green tablecloth for the kitchen table. At the craft store I had picked up a clearance deal on a 12 pack of 8-inch tall chipboard apple tree shapes, and so everyone in the family got to color and decorate a few of those and we ended up with a cute variety of realistic and fantasy trees. Those we put around the sides of the dining room buffet which made a nice scene with the cake (more on the cake below).
For the back yard, we built a simple plywood table with 2x4 legs (we needed multiple stations for different art activities) and covered it with more of the kraft paper and some baskets holding the art materials; the yard didn’t really need any other decorations because it has real trees and flowers! Finally, the kids made a ‘Welcome to Camp M-‘ sign, cut out of faux ‘wood planks’ cardboard, with letters painted on in green and attached to a cardboard tube post and lumber-scrap base. That went out on the porch next to the front door.
ACTIVITIES/GAMES: As the guests arrived we gave them their nametags, which I had printed using a font that looks like twigs or logs forming the letters, and invited them to start decorating their nature journals and hiking bag. We had fabric markers and colored Sharpie markers set out on the dining room table for this. The journals were hardbound blank books from Oriental Trading with plain white canvas covers, and the hiking bags were little totes that I sewed using plain muslin and some brown twill tape for a shoulder strap. We also had some coloring pages with nature-themed pictures (trees, birds, rainbows), supplies for making cardboard critters with craft pipecleaner stem legs and antennae, and an assortment of picture books that fit the theme, like kids’ field guides, a biography of John Audubon and a story about Monet painting his garden.
After decorating their journals and bags, the kids moved outside to paint flowerpots. I bought mini ceramic pots from OTC and we had an assortment of acrylic paints and brushes. Each child got a pot and a little palette of whatever colors of paint they chose. There was quite a variety of different designs! The pots were left on the table to dry, and my husband cleaned up the paint supplies while I took the group on a nature hike! On the inside front cover of the nature journals I had pasted a little note explaining how naturalists carefully observe the world around them and make sketches and notes, and suggesting that on our own nature hike the kids might look for certain things such as flowers in every color of the rainbow, an animal that is not a pet or a human, etc. Sort of like a scavenger hunt, though we wouldn’t move or hurt anything, just draw pictures. So we talked about that and then I had the kids put their journals in their tote bags, and also gave each of them a pencil (an environmentally-friendly one made from recycled materials, bought a pack of those at an office supply store) and a baggie of trail mix (more on that below). I brought my own bag with a supply of colored pencils in case anyone wanted to use those, and a tree identification guide, plus supplies for a game at the park. We walked from the house to the local park, a few blocks away, and stopped at various points to look at and talk about different plants and things, and experiment with using the tree ID guide. At the park, we stopped in a garden there which has trees and flowers to enjoy, rocks to peek under, stumps to sit on and cute kid-painted signs that say things like I love nature. The kids drew pictures of bugs, snacked on their trail mix and checked off things on the list in their journals.
Then we went over to the open lawn area for a nature-themed game. For this game I divided the kids into three groups: Squirrels, Foxes and Trees. Each Squirrel got a tail (length of marabou boa; these were actually leftovers from a prior year’s cat-themed party!) tucked into their waistband or through a belt loop. Each Tree got a couple of bags of acorns, which were treats I made from chocolate kisses, mini vanilla wafer cookies, and butterscotch chips. The nilla wafer goes on the flat end of the kiss, using melted butterscotch to stick it on, and a butterscotch chip gets stuck on top of the cookie. The kiss looks like the main part of the acorn with the cookie as the acorn cap. They came out really cute, and we parceled them out into plain treat bags tied with green ribbon. To play the game, the squirrels stand in a bunch in the middle, the foxes make a large circle several feet back from and around the squirrels, and the trees make an even larger circle around the foxes. When I shouted go the squirrels were to try to run to a tree and get an acorn before a fox could catch them and snatch off their tails! We played this several times so that each kid got a chance at the different roles and it was basically happy chaos.
When everyone was tired of running around, we made sure everyone had a bag or two of acorn treats, and headed back to the house. The last nature art activities at the house were to make sunprints (using special photosensitive paper - I bought multipacks of the half-sheet size from OTC and whatever leaves or other found objects the kids wanted to use from our yard), and to plant flowers in the flowerpots the paint on which was dry by this time. We bought some inexpensive ‘flats’ of flowers and they turned out to fit nicely in the pots with no extra soil, so the kids just had to gently smush them in. That was followed by cake and presents and then good-byes!
COSTUMES: We didn’t really do costumes for this party, just the nametags, but everyone in the family wore green and brown, with thematic designs on our shirts. My daughter had a shirt with a leaf print, and she also wore a ‘junior park ranger’ hat she happens to have from a family vacation.
PARTY SNACKS: At the indoor art table we had a wooden bowl of ‘twigs and leaves’ to snack on, which was stick pretzels and homemade apple fruit leather colored green and cut into leaf shapes. In the kitchen we had fruit juices and punch, cheese sticks and extras of the same trail mix used on our hike, which we assembled from large packages of pretzels, chex cereal, colored Goldfish crackers, chickadee crackers (Target’s store brand version of goldfish), bunny mini-grahams, dried fruits and M&Ms. (No nuts, in case of allergies. The fish, bird and bunny shapes in the mix made it especially perfect for our nature theme!) Plus the chocolate acorns for the park, and of course the cake.
CAKE: I do cake decorating as a hobby and had a lot of fun with this one. The base cake was a simple large round, frosted green, and it had a big edible tree growing out of it! The trunk and lower branches of the tree were modeling chocolate (supported by a wooden dowel inside) and the leafy top of the tree was a mini angel food cake, with the surface torn up and irregularly shaped, roughly frosted so that the whole thing looked natural, with modeling chocolate leaves stuck on at random all over. Sitting at the base of the tree was a modeling chocolate figure of a girl made to look like my daughter, holding a sketchpad on her knees and drawing a rainbow on it. The girl was looking at a squirrel on the other side of the cake and there were assorted bushes, flowers, grass, sticks and rocks all around. The squirrel and most of the other ‘natural’ decorations were made from modeling chocolate, the bushes and some flowers were piped buttercream and the rocks were purchased candy rocks. The base cake itself was of course chocolate!
FAVORS: We did not do separate goody bags at the end of this party as all of the activities involved things that the kids got to take home! They each had their journal, tote bag, pencil, candy acorns and trail mix if they hadn’t eaten them yet, flowerpot with flowers, and sunprint art. Our guests went home tired, happy and hopefully not TOO messy! Thank you notes were written and sent using the same paper, stamps and seals as for the invitations. My daughter used her nature journal all summer, to draw and write about the places she went and animals she saw on vacation and various outings, and I hope some of her friends did the same.
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