A detailed exploration of fairy-themed crafts and nature play outside, with ideas and resources, as well as a bonus mini nature-craft tutorial at the end of the post.
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a young family living on a quiet and, some might say, ordinary, housing estate in a small town in England. But there was something also a little bit un-ordinary about the place in which this young family lived, even if they didn’t know it at first. You see, even though the outside of the newly built house looked like just a pile of mud and bricks, the real truth was that actually, there were fairies living at the bottom of the garden…
This is a bit of a fairy-tale, of course! The young family concerned are now rapidly leaving the early years of childhood far behind, and the fairies, somewhat neglected now, may have moved on to pastures new as well.
Whilst I might feel nostalgic sometimes for the days of imaginary play in the garden with the children in tow, as a fairy-maker now myself, I get to play in this space a while longer. Often nature-based in essence, I’ve come to appreciate how the games and fairy-themed crafts enjoyed by young (and grown-up!) children can facilitate and enhance an intrinsically positive connection to the world around us. It might be that dreaming of fairies living at the bottom of the garden gets us outside, or that by being outside, surrounded by beautiful flowers, plants, trees, the ‘faery aesthetic’ is inspired within us. Either way, an enhanced connection to nature can be soothing, beneficial and a great source of creativity to young families, whether they “believe in fairies” or not 😊.
Connection to Nature
One of the activities the children enjoyed when young and out and about in a park or garden, was to build little nests, from fallen twigs, sticks and leaves, for the fairies. More than anything, when we were outside “building nests for the fairies” we were really outside, engaging with the nature around us with all our senses – foraging for fallen nature objects, each one chosen with purpose for its texture, quality, strength or beauty (my daughter was quite particular about the leaves that would make good fairy blankets!). To me, the natural world was never more vivid than when I would see it through the eyes of my children when we were outside playing. A fallen “tree rose” (type of pine cone so named by my son) would be an object of real beauty when viewed for the first time through the eyes of my young son. Fairy play was really an all-absorbing connection to our surrounding environment.
I’m not sure where or how our fairy games started, because I don’t remember ever introducing the idea to the children myself (although I may have!), rather, I always had the feeling of following along. We used to read the stories of Elsa Beskow in which little fairies and elves abound. And of course, at some point there was the tooth fairy. What I came to appreciate, as my son would point out the little patches of the woods where the fairies lived, was these invisible beings were akin to imaginary friends, and that they were a source of benevolence; friendly, playful spirits there to help. They seemed to offer a sense of the outside world as a happy, safe place to be.
As they got a little older and things like TV and computer games gradually encroached into our lives, I also came to appreciate the sort of timeless innocence of fairy play. The moments of excitement over a small trinket left by the house fairy after school would stand out in contrast to the ever-increasing worldly-wise-ness of both children.
I would read the Flower Fairy poems of Cecily Mary Barker to my daughter at bedtime when we didn’t quite have time for a full-length story.
The Faerie Handbook (produced by the editors of Faery Magazine - now Enchanted Living Magazine) offers a fond perspective on CM Barker’s work:
“What Beatrix Potter did for vegetables and farm animals, Cicely Mary Barker did for fairies: she fully embraced their delicate, innocent beauty, creating charming pictures that for many are still primary images that come to mind when hearing the word ‘fairy’.
In Barker’s paintings, there is no twinge of subtle adult irony or looming darkness: her work is an earnest celebration of childhood purity and wonder… Perhaps what is most charming about Cicely Mary Barker, however, is the fact that she tried to live her life with the kindness and benevolence she expressed in her work… As legacies go, hers will forever be a life associated with wonder, magic, generosity and selflessness”. The Faerie Handbook, p. 173.
Not only are the flower fairy images and poems extremely beautiful, the sincerity and timeless innocence, even for me as I read the poems aloud, felt like a wonderful anti-dote to the complexities of modern life we all face. So too, is this true for fairy related games, activities and crafts in general.
Family Friendly Fairy Craft Ideas
Here are some suggestions for some simple and easily do-able nature-based activities to explore outside or around your home:
Fairy Gardens – collect together a few nature treasures, a few shiny trinkets, some pebbles and make a tiny garden either in a little spot in your own garden or make one in a plant pot on your balcony. Don’t forget the flowers!
Fairy door/dwelling – make your own out of polymer clay, or if you buy one, make furniture and other miniature items to decorate the space surrounding your fairy door – tiny bunting, flowers, little cakes or other food items – these can all be used to make an imaginary little world for any resident ‘housefairy’ similar to playing with a dolls house. Acorn cups can be painted and make lovely little bowls or fairy accessories.
Leave little notes for your fairy - make tiny ‘parchment’ scrolls using a tea bag to stain the paper and tie with a pretty ribbon. You can make tiny envelopes and letters this way too.
Fairy Furniture – make out of leaves and twigs, use a hot-glue gun to make little tables and chairs by glueing together the leaves and twigs.
Make a fairy library – this book is very charming and a way to start you off, but you can very easily make your own by making miniature books from paper and card. Why not write your own fairy story too?
Dragon’s eggs in a nest – paper-mache over recycled spherical objects (for example, leftover plastic easter eggs from egg hunts, ping-pong balls and so on) and paint in fantastical colours with added speckle details. Add them to a nest in a basket, or the garden. This simple craft can initiate many imaginary games! This polymer clay dragon craft is very cute too! You could even make a miniature nest to accompany your ‘pet’ dragons ;-)
Make a ‘fairies at the bottom of the garden’ picture/photograph like the famous Cottingley Fairy hoax in which cousins Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright created convincing photographic images of themselves communing with tiny butterfly-winged fairies dancing and playing behind the garden of their home. Speculation over the authenticity of the photographs became a sensation and the mystery was only finally resolved in the 1980’s when both cousins admitted to the hoax. There is plenty of photo-editing tech readily available today, that will enable you to do this with relative ease - the picture accompanying this post is one my daughter made during the first lockdown 2020.
Fairy lanterns – you could decorate the inside of an old lantern with fairy-related items, or make a little fairy terrarium tutorial and turn it into a lantern. Adding fairy-lights can make a lovely bedside lamp, or addition to an evening summer party outside.
Nests – made from fallen twigs and leaves around the base of a tree – for the fairies to live in. Nature-play and spontaneous art-making at once!
Look for natural fairy doors in the woods and take photographs – see pic below 😊
Flower pressing and flower drawing/study – close-up nature study through drawing can really enhance a closeness with nature, and young children are often fascinated by flower pressing.
Flower crowns – there are an abundance of possibilities from tissue paper crowns, to crowns using artificial flowers and even real flowers. They capture the spirit of summer, and are a perfect accompaniment to summer celebrations of all kinds!
Pet rocks – a bit of a classic, and not strictly fairy related, but definitely of the ‘nature being’ variety. Pop them in a little match-box bed so that they go along wherever you go. Our son had no small obsession with pet rocks that lasted many years!
Make your own fairies! - wool felting, peg-doll fairies, polymer clay or any other medium you like working with. A little tip: ‘light’ materials lend themselves to the ethereal fairy-ness beautifully (feathers, wool, artificial flower petals etc).
A Timeless Narrative
We have played with and explored all of these fairy-related crafts and games over the years, and some of them, over the course of many years too! This is another aspect of fairy play that I really enjoy – that games and ‘stories’ can unfold over a period of many weeks, months or even a few years; thus reflecting the timeless appeal of folklore, fairytale and fairies across generations. Sometimes there will be a narrative that runs through all the ‘imaginings’ and sometimes not. It can feel like an unfolding story, and when it comes to crafting it can mean that there are many different activities you could explore, all connected to the same story… for example, you could make some furniture for the ‘house fairy’ one day, followed by a little garden dwelling for the same fairy at another time.
May is the perfect month for nature play and any kind of fairy craft – the weather is a little warmer, everything is blossoming, wildflowers are beginning to grow, it’s a truly lovely time to explore and connect to the outside world. In the spirit of light returning to our days, it’s also lovely to approach such games with a playful, fun, ‘lightness of touch’ too. Perhaps reading a fairy story, making a flower crown to wear in the garden whilst blowing bubbles is more than enough to spark a feeling joyful connection to the space around you. Maybe making nests in the park – be they for birds, fairies, dragons or even simply as ‘nature sculptures’ – would make for a gentle afternoon playing in nature with little ones. Carolyn Turgeon writes in the opening introduction to The Faerie Handbook:
“Maybe it doesn’t really matter where the metaphor [belief in fairies] ends and the literal begins. What I do know is that fairies – in all their shimmering, gossamer, moonlit gorgeousness – tap into our deep longing for the world to be more than what we see”.
In allowing simple fairy games and crafts to lead us out into nature, perhaps the world can come alive to us through all our senses and create the intrinsic feeling that the natural world around us can be enlivening, nourishing, restoring and a source of inspiration for all the family.
A non-exhaustive list of a few fairy-themed resources we love:
The Faerie Handbook – An Enchanting Compendium of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes and Project by the Editors of Faerie Magazine – a sumptuous, visually gorgeous introduction to the ‘faery aesthetic’ with plenty of projects to explore.
My Fairy Library – Make a Magical World of Miniature Books – a beautiful craft book, as the name suggests to make your own fairy books, with a library themed cut pop out to put them in.
How to Find Flower Fairies; Discover an enchanted fairy world – wonderful interactive fairy themed pop up book that can be appreciated by children of all ages for its beauty and nature scenes.
All poems and Flower Fairy art by Cecily Mary Barker – there are numerous books available.
The work of Dr Merrick Burrow, Head of English & Creative Writing at the University of Huddersfield exploring in depth the Cottingley Fairies hoax – see this blog for an introduction to his work.
Erwin Saunders (aka pixie hunter) – only introduced to me recently by a friend, my daughter and I have been utterly enchanted by these videos – regardless of whether real/not real, they are utterly charming, and the nature/woodland scenery extremely beautiful.
And finally, if you ever find yourself in the area of Stroud, England, the shop Fortune Faeries is the most enchanting faerie grotto and a work of art in its own right.
Bonus Mini-Tutorial - Make a timeless, vintage-feel pressed flower keepsake
Wildflowers grow in abundance in the month of May; collect a few on your next walk and press to make into a memorable keepsake of your time outside :-)