Our nature shadow boxes in preschool

You can foster environmental stewardship using upcycled materials and objects found in nature

We have been collecting shoe box lids for a variety of activities and this one came straight from the wonderful artistic ideas shared by Casa Maria’s Creative Learning Zone….

Prepare the Shadow Box

To make these beautiful shadow boxes, the children started by pouring glue into shoebox lids.  I wasn’t sure how much glue would be needed so I had them at least fill the lid with enough glue that the nature items could lay firmly in the glue…

Collect Items in Nature

Next, the children went outside to collect nature items to put in their glue.  I had the children go back and forth to collect something and instructed them to look for something different each time so they would have a variety of items to put in the glue…

The children found leaves, sticks, pine needles, acorns, flowers, rocks, and a few other nature items to add to their boxes…

I encouraged the children to be very selective as they searched for items to add to their shadow boxes.  For past activities, the children would grab a handful of random leaves and give little thought as to the beauty or different qualities of each item they bring in. So this time, I wanted to slow them down and have them be more thoughtful in what they selected to add to their boxes….

Design the Shadow Box

Some of the children were very selective as to where they set their nature items in the box. Other children just placed them anywhere in the box…

Add a Colorful Effect

Once the children added a nice supply of nature items to their box lids, then we began to add some color.  I debated about leaving the glue just white because I felt like they were beautiful as they were but the children loved this next step so I am glad we continued on….

For our next step, I set out cups of slightly watered down tempera paint and some paint brushes.  The children used the brushes to gently sprinkle different colors of paint on the glue (or white spaces between their nature items)…

Enjoy the Creative Process

The children concentrated on adding color. The room was so quiet as the children focused on the process for about 10 whole minutes which is unusual in my classroom

Once each child was satisfied with the paint dripping part of this process, then I set the shadow boxes up to dry for a few days….

Embrace the Unique Creations

The shadow boxes have been drying for over a week so far..  Ours are still not quite dry but as they dry, the glue starts to turn clear.  I hung these up for a quick photo and had to take them back down because the glue was dripping. The shadow box all the way to the left is almost completely dry – as you can see the glue has started to turn clear in color. I am interested to see the final results of their unique creations and the nature items should really stand out…

By |2018-12-11T15:48:18+00:00November 12th, 2011|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Tammy November 12, 2011 at 3:11 pm - Reply

    I really like this idea.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 12, 2011 at 3:42 pm - Reply

      Thank you Tammy! We loved it!

  2. Laura (The SEEDS Network) November 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    Ooh, I really love this! As I was reading, my biggest question was how long it would take to dry (so it seems like so far it’s been a week). Do you think it would dry quicker if the glue was watered down a little?

    I am thinking to see if I can try something like this as a holiday shadow box (trying to think of what items I could use … like tinsel, bows, pine, star sequins … others?).

    I can totally see how the kids would be mesmorized by adding in the paint color. Great idea!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 12, 2011 at 7:00 pm - Reply

      A holiday box is a Fabulous idea!!! I worry about watered down glue soaking through the box. You would need to add plastic o something on the bottom – possibly.

  3. Laura (The SEEDS Network) November 13, 2011 at 9:05 am - Reply

    Ah yes … watering down the glue could pose that problem. I can’t wait to try this!!

  4. Vicky November 13, 2011 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    What a great idea! I love the addition of the paint drippings. I am stumbling this post. Vicky from Mess For Less

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 13, 2011 at 3:44 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the stumble Vicky!

  5. KM November 13, 2011 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    These are so amazing!!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 13, 2011 at 3:43 pm - Reply

      Thank you KM:) So glad you stopped by today!

  6. Taleah November 14, 2011 at 11:42 am - Reply

    What a beautiful simple idea!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 14, 2011 at 10:31 pm - Reply

      Thank you Taleah:)

  7. Rachelle | TinkerLab November 14, 2011 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    This is awesome!! A totally new-to-me art idea, and I’m off to pin it. Thanks to you and Casa Maria for sharing.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 14, 2011 at 10:29 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the PIn Rachelle!

  8. DarleneV November 14, 2011 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    I think these are beautiful and it would be interesting to do them as a seasonal box. To see the visual differences between the seasons.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 14, 2011 at 10:28 pm - Reply

      Oh yes, it would be very interesting!

  9. Ali November 14, 2011 at 8:40 pm - Reply

    Love love them so much. My eldest would love to make something like this and so would I.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 14, 2011 at 10:28 pm - Reply

      This is great for all ages Ali – even us grown ups:)

  10. Melissa @ The Chocolate Muffin Tree November 14, 2011 at 11:59 pm - Reply

    Wonderful! I know my daughter would love this!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 15, 2011 at 2:22 pm - Reply

      This is one of my favorites – I am already planning another one kind of along the same idea:)

  11. Esther November 16, 2011 at 9:30 am - Reply

    Awesome idea! Time to get ready for a nature hunt! My daughter would love it! and She will love me forever if I let her pour a big bottle of glue into a shoe box:-) lol

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 16, 2011 at 8:46 pm - Reply

      Haha – it is one of the best parts of the whole process!! My kids were like WOW – we get to pour the glue!! YAY!

  12. Darlene November 16, 2011 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    We made these today and they were as much fun as I thought they would be. The kids loved them and they were so proud of their boxes. They passed by them on their way to dinner and said “these are so beautiful”. 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 16, 2011 at 8:43 pm - Reply

      Yay!! I am so glad you tried them. We absolutely love these too and I just want to keep on making them:) They are so beautiful!

  13. Kate @ Puddles and Gumboots November 19, 2011 at 9:34 am - Reply

    Such a fun idea!, I’m definitely doing this with the kids soon!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 20, 2011 at 12:42 am - Reply

      Your kids will love it!

  14. Joyce @Dinosaurs And Octopuses November 20, 2011 at 12:03 am - Reply

    I love your ideas of getting them to slow down and be more selective. Both the process and the finished shadow boxes are absolutely beautiful!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 20, 2011 at 12:40 am - Reply

      Thank you Joyce. I just hated to see a box full of brown scrunched up leaves end up in their boxes:)

  15. wilhelm April 11, 2012 at 9:14 am - Reply

    wow amazing activity, and since I am introducing living and non-living things it would be a great experience for my children. Thank you always.

  16. Kylee Compton February 28, 2017 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    How much glue did you need? I’ll be doing this for 3 classes, a total 30 children. I want to make sure I have enough glue! Is one gallon enough?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. March 1, 2017 at 11:26 pm - Reply

      The more glue you use Kylee, the longer it takes to dry. A nice puddle of glue in the center is necessary so possibly one gallon is plenty but I would go with two just in case.

  17. Ivory March 3, 2017 at 10:30 am - Reply

    I think I’ll try having my son paint on a piece of white paper first and adhere the painted paper to the lid. I’ll add the glue over the painted paper. If the glue dries clear, then the colors on the painted paper should show up, just sort of matte looking from the glue.

  18. […] Nature Shadow Boxes were inspired by Teach Preschool and the beautiful shadow boxes they made with shoe box lids. Here are the ones we made and the […]

  19. Shirin Munir Surani August 29, 2017 at 11:16 pm - Reply

    Awesome idea! Loved it.Will try with our children.

  20. Raquel August 30, 2017 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Hello Deborah ????????
    Thank you for sharing the shadow boxes. They look great. The toddlers and preschoolers here really enjoy making shadow boxes for all seasons. They have so much fun and always look forward to being outdoors and discovering the world around them…
    Have a wonderful rest of the week!


  21. Kaye Rich August 30, 2017 at 4:45 pm - Reply

    Can I just say how much I love this post and how excited I am to do this with my little preschoolers! ????????Thank you for sharing this and so many wonderful exciting and simple ideas!

  22. Jessie Newman August 30, 2017 at 5:22 pm - Reply

    I do these in my class in the fall, too. If you aren’t opposed to using glitter, try this idea. I let the children sprinkle a little red, orange, and/or gold glitter after they have filled their boxes with their nature items. So pretty!

  23. Patty August 30, 2017 at 5:34 pm - Reply

    This is the perfect project for a bunch of old gift boxes that someone donated to me. I have been hanging on to them, trying to decide what to do. I can’t wait to give this a try with my classes. Thank you so much for this fantastic idea!

  24. Modupe August 31, 2017 at 10:44 am - Reply

    Very inspiring, well done!!!

  25. Diane Wilkinson-Best August 31, 2017 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    I’m thinking that if you do this into a plastic container or tray you could maybe pull the whole thing out when it’s dry and hang it in a window?

  26. Sarah Glassco September 1, 2017 at 9:12 am - Reply

    Thinning the glue would keep it from holding the objects firmly, but it would dry faster. If the box top is white inside, or you put white paper under it as someone suggested, I bet the colors, and the contrast with the dark nature objects, would show after it is dry.

  27. Joyce M. September 4, 2017 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    Joyce Myers
    Thanks for sharing!! I’ m so excited to get my class shadow boxes going. What a wonderful idea. We will make holiday boxes as well.

  28. Della Turu October 20, 2017 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    Tena Koe, such a great idea cos I love nature and art. I will be trying this for my children in my Puna ( Playgroup ) Nga Mihi

  29. […] Nature Shadow Boxes and Math Glue Boxes for Art are two of my faves!! […]

  30. Autumn Shadow Boxes | Wonderbar August 28, 2018 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    […] all our little treasures. We’ve been creating a lot with pieces from that basket but these Autumn Shadow Boxes by the lovely Deborah from TeachPreschool are one of our favorite projects for keeping our found […]

Leave A Comment

This site uses 'cookies' to give you the best, most relevant experience. Using the website means you're OK with this. Ok