Little Boy Bundled Upon PlaygroundWinter has always seemed like an especially creative time.  Tromping outdoors, I can feel the earth’s quieter energy.  The sky is a nuanced gray, the trees a tangle of black branches, the sparrows brown and fluffed against the cold.  It might be difficult for kids to see the beauty in a dormant world—unless they’re encouraged to look carefully and perhaps even recreate the colors and shapes they see.  After a winter walk or romp, you might bring out the hot cocoa and a few art supplies.

My 11-year-old daughter did this recently with a 5-year-old visitor.  They got out the charcoal pencils and crayon box and made pictures of themselves in a wintry landscape.

The artist Walter Anderson loved climbing trees, wading in water and painting the natural world.  “Art was an adventure, and Walter Anderson was an explorer, first class,” according to Hester Bass, the author of The Secret World of Walter Anderson (Candlewick, 2009, ages 6 and up).

This beautifully written biography shows how this 20th century artist drew inspiration from the pelicans, herons, raccoons, rabbits, plants and other living things on Horn Island, a wild place twelve miles by boat from his home in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  The watercolor illustrations by E.B. Lewis powerfully convey the man and the island, with details ranging from Anderson’s weather-beaten hat to the washed-ashore bananas, which provide a surprise feast for the delighted animals.  Readers curious about the look of Anderson’s artwork will find vibrant examples included with the author’s note in the back.

Giving our kids the chance to express the beauty and energy they discover in the outdoors may help them, like Anderson, to find the spirit of “hope and renewal…in nature,” the sense of the “interconnectedness of all life.”

For more ways to incorporate art into your children’s time outdoors, search NWF’s Activity Finder.

Mary Quattlebaum is a mother and the author of fifteen award-winning children’s books, including Jackson Jones and the Puddle of Thorns (Random House) and other chapter books about a boy and his adventures in a city community garden. Check for activities connected with Mary’s books.