Autumn has arrived which means it’s time for collecting conkers. Conkers are an awesome free, natural material that kids of all ages love to play with and make into crafts. Below you’ll find 20+ fun and creative ideas for crafts and activities with conkers for children of all ages.
Autumn has arrived and it’s both getting colder and the days shorter. Even though I’m not a fan of these changes I do love that the leaves are turning all kinds of beautiful colours and conkers are falling from the trees, all ready to be collected and incorporated into different play ideas and crafts.
Conkers are the nuts from the Horse Chestnut tree. They’re a free natural resource which are awesome for some creative and open-ended play and crafting, which is why we love them. Despite my kids not being older than 2 and 4, it has already become a tradition for us to collect conkers as soon as they start falling from the trees. Collecting them is a whole activity on it’s own and a fun way to be active outside together in the fall, but the real craftiness starts as soon as you’ve gathered just a few of them.
Conkers are not to be confused with chestnuts. While chestnuts are edible, conkers are not – in fact they are poisonous and can even cause paralysis if consumed. You can read a bit more about how to tell the differences between chestnuts and conkers from Our Web of Life if you are not familiar with them. My kids have never tried to eat the conkers or even put them in the mouth – but even if they had it would take some will power to bite through one, so I’ve never been afraid of letting my little ones play with them. But of course always be mindful and keep an eye out for them.
20+ craft and play ideas with conkers (horse chestnuts)
If you need a bit of inspiration for some crafts and play ideas you’ve come to the right place. Below you’ll find 20+ ideas that I’ve either done with my kids already, plan to do or have even done as a child myself. With some of the ideas the conkers can be substituted with other materials like acorns.
1. Necklaces, bracelets and long chains.
This has fast become a tradition. We need to collect enough conkers to make at least one necklace for each of us – and preferable a few bracelets as well. Threading is a great activity for little hands.
2. Animals, humans and imaginary creatures.
Make them with glue, matches (without the head), wooden skewers, tooth picks, or pipe cleaners. Add some acorns, beads, pine cones and goggly eyes and you can make an array of creative animals. Last year we made a bunch of different conker animals!
3. Draw and colour on them.
So simple, so fun. Just make sure you use pens that can actually draw on conkers. We use the extra fine pens from Posca, but I imagine all sharpie (paint) pens will do! Make faces or be artsy and make patterns. The result can be quite decorative. This year we made different faces trying to show different emotions.
4. Count and do math.
Either paint numbers on the conkers – or use them as is. Ask your little ones to make different piles with 1-2-3-etc., use them in addition and subtraction, lay the conkers in the shapes of the numbers – either freehand or by placing them on top of a drawing the number.
5. Play conkers.
I haven’t done this with my kids yet as they are still at that age where swinging the conkers at your siblings is much more fun than trying to hit the others conker. But it’s on our fall to do list for next year.
The game is easy to set up and the rules are simple. Choose a conker each, drill a hole in it and pull a string all the way through tying a know at the end. Now the conkers are ready to fight. The goal is to smash the other’s conker by trying to hit it with your own. He who’s conker’s smashes first have lost. Be warned though, being hit with a conker on the hands (or head) can hurt, so be mindful of when to introduce this game to your little ones.
6. Make yarn spiders.
This is a favourite activity of my 4-year old and this year we have a ton of colourful yarn spider hanging all over the house. Add 4 or more match sticks (without the head) or skewer them all way through with wooden skewers making it look like a star. Weave yarn around until you get a spider web.
7. Go fish.
Find a big container and fill it with water. Add a lot of conkers and hand your kid different tools to catch the conkers with like small colanders, stack up cups or similar. Preferably something with a holes, so you won’t get water everywhere. Make it more challenging by writing on the conkers and telling your kids to only find the letters of the alphabet, the letters that spell their name, all the one with red dots or whatever your kids will find fun. A little tip is putting a wax cloth underneath the container and have a few towels ready. It can get wet.
8. Practice letters and writing.
Write letters on the conkers and either practice spelling or make name bracelets. We use Posca markers with fine point for this, but I think ordinary sharpies would do as well. Depending on your kids level of spelling you can draw a cat and have them find the letters to spell it, or maybe write the letters for the kids having them find the corresponding letter among all of the conkers. You can also form the letters with the conkers or write a letter on a piece of paper having your little one placing the conkers on top of the letter.
9. Throw them.
Set up one or more targets (like small containers and baskets) and practice throwing. Give each container a value and have your little ones add up how many points they get.
10. Freeze them in some water and set up a sensory invitation to play.
Put it in a container and have them defrost the conkers by pouring warm water on it, hammer with small (children’s) hammers or whatever you can come up with. It’s a great little sensory experience for even the youngest of kids.
11. Pick them up with your toes.
Make a competition out of it and see who will first pick up 5-10-15. Make it a team effort to beat the clock or just as a fun way of tidying up after play time with the conkers.
12. Make laundry detergent.
Horse chestnuts contain saponins which mean they can be made into a soap. We haven’t tried this yet, but my 4-year old keeps asking me, so we’ll have to give it a go soon. Whether it’s feasible or not, I don’t know, but sometimes it’s about the process. I think we’ll try out the recipe from Wasteland Rebel – and I think our first attempt of washing will be with some of our painting and gardening clothes. You know, just in case.
13. Sensory bin.
Place a bunch of conkers in a container of sorts and add different things to grab the conkers with and smaller containers. And then let the magic happen. If you are familiar with sensory bins then this is just like using beans, rice or whatever dry materials you like – if not, then your kids are in for a treat. My little ones loves playing with the conkers together with their play pots and pans. Sometimes they add their Schleich animals, but the kitchen utensils are their favourites.
14. Pop them in the bathtub for a fun seasonal bath. Both my kids where over the moon when I popped the conkers in the bathtub and where almost impossible to get out of the water again.
15. Plant a tree.
Planting a seed and seeing something grow is always magical – and planting a horse chestnut tree is very simple. Just place a conker in some soil, cover it with about 5 cm of sand and soil, water and wait. Be warned though, that a lot of horse chestnut tree will grow to be enormous and probably won’t be the best to place in a smaller backyard, but if you have the space, then why not go ahead? We’ve decided to just try and plant a small tree in a pot and then later decide what to do with it.
16. Make art and outlines.
You don’t need to use conkers for this specifically, but it’s a fun tradition. Make an outline of your kids by having them lay on the ground and then put conkers along their body all the way around them. You can also make hears, numbers or whatever shapes your kids find fun.
17. Rescue the conkers.
Conkers can also be used to train some gross motor skills and challenge your kids balance. Find something for your kids to stand on – the higher and thinner, the bigger the challenge – and spread the conkers around them on the floor. Now have your kid collect all of the conkers in a container without touching the ground. My 4-year old pretends the conkers are people and the ground is lava.
18. Add conkers to play dough.
It’s always fun to add new things to play dough and conkers are definitely not an exception. If you’ve made conkers animals they will be a good addition as well. If you don’t have any on hand just make your own play dough with ingredients from the kitchen.
19. Weighing and finding balance.
How much does one conker weigh? How about 5? 10? What’s the average weight? How big a difference is there between the biggest and the smallest? If you have a scale this can also be a fun way of finding the balance point. If you don’t own a scale, make a quick one with a hanger, some string and to identical plastic containers (like a plastic cup) like this simple, but ingenious scale from kidsactivitiesblog.
20. Hide and seek / treasure hunt.
Hide the conkers around the house and have your kids find them. A little pro-tip – make sure you count how many you hide and how many they find. It’s not fun to find a composting conker two months later.
21. Dice game.
Who get’s the most? Take turns rolling a dice until your pile of conkers are gone and then see you have gotten the most.
22. Spinning top.
Make spinning tops by finding some larger conkers, drill a small hole on the flattest part with a screwdriver, nail or whatever you have to make holes and place a match stick in the hole. And that’s it, you have a spinning top.
If you want to make a game out of it, make a handful of spinning tops each, mark your spinning tops somehow (fx with a colour or draw a symbol or initials on top) and have them compete against each other by seeing who’s spinning top can spin the longest. You can make it a bit more exciting by drawing a circle on the ground and see who’s spinning top can spin the longest inside the circle. Each player gets a fixed amount of spinning tops and each spinning top gets to enter the arena at fixed time thus allowing each play to try and knock the other’s conker out of the circle.
23. Foot “bath”.
Let your little ones take their socks off and have a sensory experience with the conkers. Often we tend to forget to feel with our toes and feet – especially in the colder seasons where cold floor and boots make us forget to let our toes free. Taking a conker foot “bath” is however a wonderful and sensory experience that is well worth risking your toes getting a bit chill.
Conkers are an awesome natural material that can be used in a ton of arts and crafts and be the centrepiece for hours of play – all free of charge. If you have anymore ideas, please share below! I would love to add more to the list.