How to make paper plate gardens: an outdoor craft for kids

 Written by contributor Stephanie Langford of Keeper of the Home

There are two kinds of moms when it comes to crafts. The ones that embrace the mess and enjoy the process. And then there are the ones that avoid the mess at all cost, and say “but painting with water is going to be so. much. fun!”.

Guess which kind of mom I am?

Sure, we do playdoh occasionally, we draw and color plenty, and I do think that baking and cooking with kids is a mess worth making. Crafting, however, has not been my strong suit.

There’s a reason I’m much more of a “how to” writer on this site. When I told Nicole (who makes so many beautiful things) that I planned to write a kid’s craft tutorial, she said was so excited to see another side of me. Well. Hold on to your hats and watch how a mess-averse and only mildly-crafty mama creates a little beauty and an afternoon of fun (no washcloths or paint smocks required!).

Paper Plate Gardens {the craft that any mama can make}

Here’s what you need. You probably already have everything on the list:

  • paper plates (any size, but large ones work best)
  • rocks or pebbles
  • a selection of leaves
  • flower (dandelions and buttercups count)
  • moss (you could substitute grass, but moss is fun to work with)
  • anything else from the backyard that appeals to you

Putting it all together

There is no right way. Each of my three “big” kids made one (the 3 month old decided to sit this one out). They all turned out differently, and I loved watching their unique design sense coming out in this project.

Essentially, this was how we did it:

  1. Add some soil to the plate
  2. Add rocks (it can be nice to make a path through the soil, or perhaps soil on one side, rocks on the other)
  3. Add moss (or grass)
  4. Decorate with choice of leaves, flowers, acorns, or any other backyard accoutrements you can find.

One child went with a purple floral theme on either side of a rock pathway.

Another used more of a leaf motif and stuck with all-white flowers. I do have to note at this point that for all of the funky, clashing outfits my children manage to pull out of their closet, their gardens were ever so elegant and matching. Who would have thought?

After the gardens were finished, they also began to talk of other additions, like garden signs, teepees made of twigs, bugs (dead or alive). It’s all about the embellishments.

The best things about these plate gardens?

  • they can be done outside and make virtually no mess (hooray!)
  • if they get bored or unhappy with what they made, they can shake it off and start again
  • after you remove a few rocks, you can throw the whole thing in the compost pile (after a couple days they lose their lustre, especially if you leave them out in the rain as my children did)
  • they make for happy kids. Just look at that smile!

How do you get creative with your kids outdoors? And fess up… which kind of mom are you?

All photos by Stephanie Langford


Stephanie Langford has a passion for encouraging homemakers who want to make healthy changes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke, and (her newest!) through successful meal planning. She is the editor and author of Keeper of the Home.

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  1. This is my kind of craft! I too am craft and mess adverse so this is perfect. Thanks for the idea.

  2. I love it!! What a great way to connect kids with nature and God’s creation. It would be fun to even try to sow a few grass seeds and watch them grow. I think I’d use an inexpensive heavy plastic plate…this garden just might hang around a little longer than the paper plate!!

    • Stephanie says:

      Yes, adding grass seeds would be very fun! More of a living garden!

      Using a heavy plastic plate would definitely make these last longer, especially if you wanted to actually grow something. Good idea!

  3. I love this idea, though I will utilize a re-usable plastic plate so it can hit the dishwasher after the garden is gone, versus the landfill. Great summer activity!

    • Stephanie says:

      We didn’t throw them out, but just composted them instead. The paper plate can be torn or cut up and should decompose just fine.

  4. My kids will love this. They are always trying to create gardens in the backyard. I like the way this one is contained.

    • Stephanie says:

      I know, mine love planting, too. The big ones have both currently got their own large pot full of soil, and they’ve randomly planted all sorts of seeds that appealed to them. We’ll see how those go. 🙂

  5. So glad find I’m not the only one who avoids messy crafting with my kids. Love this idea, it would be perfect on camping trips too.

  6. This project is AWESOME. No two creations will ever be the same, either, meaning you could make one just about anywhere. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I’m the mom that loves making the mess and will only do free form crafts – I really despise “cut the triangle, glue the eyes here” type of crafts. Unfortunately, I hate to clean up… or, more accurately, my level of clean up is just not what my husband would deem sufficient, so he scowls at the finger paint on the garage floor and the Jackson Pollock splatters on our back deck.

    I LOVE this idea, though – free form and getting our hands in the dirt. Especially if we go on a “nature exploration” to find the elements of our creations!

  8. I’m not a Mom…but I am a Peace Corps volunteer who’s always in need of fun and cheap craft ideas! This project is awesome, and would easily tie in with an environmental lesson I could teach my kids.

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