“I LOVE art, mommy. I’m an artist.” —Eddy, Age 6


For many children (and adults), expression through art form is something that comes intuitively. Children, by nature, are curious, and art is a way in which many explore the natural world. Thus, art works hand in hand with environmental education, including many of the youth programs that we run at Seattle Audubon. This integration of art into our preschool Fledglings and Friends Story Times, Nature Camp, teen Young Birders, and others, aids students in developing a deeper understanding of the scientific concepts they are encountering while also helping to cultivate a sense of stewardship toward the environment.

We’ve identified five benefits of art integration in our programs and are happy to share some activity examples for all to try at home.


1. Art aids in observing nature

We often encourage our participants to make scientific sketches during outdoor exploration. Scientific sketches are based on observations and are less about aesthetics, removing the pressure to create something perfect. This sketching process guides the artist to focus on details that may have otherwise gone unnoticed, allowing a deeper understanding of features like the shape of a bird’s beak, or the color of their plumage, or the venation in a leaf. These scientific sketches can also be combined with nature journaling from a sit spot to further enhance observation skills.

2. Art helps with understanding complex ideas and

3. aids in developing a sense of place

One of the most intriguing aspects of bird observations is listening to their calls and songs. However, bird vocalizations can be difficult to interpret at any age. To help participants relate to bird songs and calls, a sound mapping activity turns all the sounds they hear, from bird calls to the wind, into visual representations with color, shapes, and textures. Processing sounds in a tactile way aids in retention of different species’ calls and songs. This activity also centers them within their environment and gives them a sense of place, especially when the activity is done at school or at home.

4. Art provides positive interactions with nature

Through our work with elementary school students at local schools and through Nature Camp, we occasionally encounter children who are not comfortable in nature. Whether this is due to a previous trauma associated with being outside, or discomfort related to lack of positive experiences in the outdoors, these students often respond well to outdoor art activities. A child who may feel uncomfortable with the dirt and decay that is found on a forest floor often forgets about this aversion when tasked with creating a nature sculpture, such as a mandala, out of fallen cones and leaves along the trail. The natural process of creating something puts students at ease, and leads to positive experiences in the forest. 

5. Art promotes stewardship and conservation

Using art to understand the complex relationships between different species in the natural world also helps young learners understand how their actions can positive or negatively impact the environment. Thus, art helps address emotionally heavy conservation topics like window collisions and pollution.

One project that aligns with our Bird-Safe Building initiative is to create window decals that children can put on the windows of their home to help prevent fatal collisions. This is a fun, accessible art project that can be done with common household items and empowers youth to make a difference in bird health within the city.

To address global plastics pollution, at-home Nature Campers were encouraged to create ocean creatures using trash that they had on hand. Our campers had a great time creating anemones from Styrofoam boxes and straws, and limpets out of old take-out containers and newspaper. This project allowed them to explore the interesting adaptations of these ocean animals while connecting them with current conservation issues.

These activities lead to richer, more engaging programming that allows for self-expression and helps develop better understandings of environmental and scientific concepts. Art inclusion also makes the activities more engaging, fun, and the results make the world a more beautiful place. The beauty of the natural world is all around us, acting as a constant source of inspiration for all 

 So go outside, connect with nature, and create something beautiful. 

More articles in this issue of Earthcare Northwest:

The Nature Shop Windows Become Beautiful and Bird-friendly

An interview with muralist Angelina Villalobos

Songs Aren’t Just for the Birds

Spotlight on musician Whitney Neufeld-Kaiser

Nesting in Trash

Spotlight on artist Laurel Mundy