Step into fall with autumn crafts projects

Our children appeared at the door with a box full of twigs, acorns, leaves, and pine cones. After asking for some short pieces of yarn, they headed for the backyard. My husband and I were curious so we followed them. ``What are you making?'' we asked. ``Mobiles,'' they replied.

We watched and helped the children arrange, balance, and knot their various items to the twigs. After a short time, the whole family had taken part in constructing nature mobiles -- mobiles (in our opinion) that were designed and crafted more uniquely than any mobile ever found or sold in a store.

Fall is the perfect time for families to join in some simple projects using everyday objects found outdoors. The ideas below -- intended for children with parental supervision -- will get you and your youngsters off to a good start.

Leaf prints with chalk, crayons, or paint. Materials for chalk prints: colored chalk, leaf, paper. Procedure: Set leaf on paper and lay colored chalk flat. Rub it over leaf and out on to paper. Hold leaf in place and repeat process around entire leaf. When completed, lift leaf off and its exact shape remains on paper.

Materials for crayon prints: crayons, leaf, thin paper. Procedure: Set leaf under paper and color over entire surface of leaf. Almost magically, the leaf's stem, veins, and outline will appear!

Materials for paint prints: tempera paint, leaf, sponge, shallow bowl, construction paper. Procedure: Pour small amount of paint on sponge and spread. Press leaf into your homemade stamp pad and then make several imprints on paper. Allow to dry.

Seed mosaics. Materials: construction paper or cardboard for background, assortment of seeds, pencil, glue. Procedure: Help children plan and draw a simple picture with large areas of color on the board. Glue seeds, one group at a time, to one area. Remind children to set seeds closely to avoid empty spaces. To vary mosaics, a combination of flowers, leaves, and feathers can also be used with the seeds.

Homemade jewelry. Materials: Medium saucepan, 1/2 cup cornstarch, 1 cup salt, 3/4 cup water, spoon, drinking straw, aluminum foil. Procedure: Combine dry ingredients in saucepan and slowly add water. Stir over low heat until stiff. Transfer to foil and cool. Knead for about 4 minutes. After flattening clay, make into circles, triangles, and squares for pendants. Roll into beads for necklaces or bracelets. Use straw to punch holes needed for stringing jewelry when hardened.

Clay nature crafts. Materials: Self-hardening clay (this can be found in art supply stores), weeds, and flowers. Procedure: Encourage children to make pots, mugs, jewelry, and whatever else they can think of. For nature designs on the creations, carefully show them how to press weeds and flowers into the clay to make imprints, and then remove. (Imprinting does not work on the homemade clay, only on the commercial variety.) Set objects aside and allow to dry and harden. Any leftover clay can be stored in plastic bags and brought out for rainy-day fun.

Twin prints. Materials: Tempera paints, paper, shallow dish, pine needles, pine cones, twigs, stones, leaves. Procedure: Fold paper in half. After putting tempera paint in bowl, use your nature items as a replacement for paintbrush, making designs on one-half of paper only. While design is still wet, fold paper closed and press entire area. When opened, children will be delighted to see identical designs on both halves of paper, making twin prints.

Pencil holder. Materials: empty soup can, tape, glue, paper, and shells, pebbles, or seeds. Procedure: Cut paper to fit around can and glue or tape it in place. Then glue shells, pebbles, or seeds to paper. Allow to dry and use as pencil holder.

Personalized bookmark. Materials: cardboard, glue, clean sand. Procedure: Cut cardboard to desired bookmark size. Then use glue to carefully print name or initials down the front of bookmark. Sprinkle sand over glued areas and allow to dry well. Then shake off excess sand to see your personalized bookmark. These can be covered with clear contact paper.

Sun catchers. Materials: waxed paper, iron, newspaper, wildflowers, and weeds. Procedure: Carefully arrange wildflowers and weeds between two sheets of waxed paper. Cover with newspaper and slowly iron area with medium-warm iron. Check under newspaper frequently and when waxed paper has sealed in the arrangement, allow to cool. Cut in circular or oval shape and hang from window to catch the autumn sun!

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