Some of my most cherished childhood memories are of the times my family spent combing Florida’s beaches for seashells. Slathered in sunscreen and armed with beach buckets, my sister and I would follow in my mother’s footsteps, blonde heads bent, eyes focused on the sand, where we searched for the perfect shell. Countless summer vacations were marked by these salty treasure hunts.
Later, we’d spread out our cache and muse over what we’d found. My mother taught us the shells’ delightful, kid-friendly names like shark’s eyes, kitten’s paws and turkey wings. Together we’d explore the delicate texture of iridescent jingles, which would later be strung into wind chimes; we’d run our fingers over the smooth, shiny surfaces of olive shells and the pointy spines of jewel boxes. I discovered that coquinas, when opened up, look like tiny butterflies. And slippers and baby’s ears made their way into imaginative play.
As I grew older, and shelling was no longer the highlight of our family vacations, I forgot all about our shell collection. My mother did not; she kept them all. Recently, with my own two daughters in mind, I took possession of the very large bin that houses our family shell collection. Upon its opening, I was flooded with memories of those endless summer days at the beach.
I shared our treasures with my girls, watching them with pure delight as they discovered and explored the shells for themselves. We sorted them into piles. I taught them their funny names. We decorated our nature table with shells. We painted some and made others into shell creatures. We glued shells on picture frames and poured melted beeswax into them to make candles.
And for the first time, inspired by my own childhood memories, I took my gals on an official shelling walk at our local beach. Slathered in sunscreen and armed with beach buckets, they followed in my footsteps, blonde heads bent in search of new treasures they could call their own. The shells we found weren’t the beauties that graced the beaches of my childhood. But they held their own charm and delighted my treasure seekers. And that old, familiar magic of the hunt was alive, filling the salty air and feeding the soul of two young girls, and one still young at heart.
Crafting with Shells
Whether you gather seashells during summer days at the beach or from a trip to your local craft store, they hold the key to hours of summer fun!
Even the youngest crafter can do this project, which is perfect for shells that are bleached from the sun or worn from the sand. Here’s what you need:
A handful of shells of any size and shape
Acrylic paint in a variety of colors (we love glitter paint)
Paint brushes and sponges
Spread out your shells on a covered work surface, along with your selection of paints, brushes and sponges. Then simply paint away! Let your shell art dry completely, then display it on a nature table, or pile your decorative shells in a bowl. Painted shells also make great party favors and token gifts.
Seashell Picture Frames
Seashell picture frames are a beautiful, practical way to display your shell collection. Use frames you already have around the house, or pick some up for cheap at craft stores, thrift stores or garage sales. Gather the following materials:
Variety of seashells appropriately sized for your frame(s)
Hot glue gun and glue sticks
Before gluing, first place your shells around the frame in a pleasing design, arranging them until they look just the way you like (any age child can do this part). Once your design is set, use the hot glue gun to affix the shells (an adult or supervised older child should complete this part.) Add a snapshot taken at the seashore, and hang up the frame as a reminder of summer fun at the beach. Tip: put a few of these away to be given as teacher gifts or holiday presents.
Children of all ages will delight in creating animals, creatures and play scenes made of seashells. Use your imagination to dream up funny, cute and playful ideas!
To create a seashell owl, use a hot glue gun to affix two turkey wings (pictured) or angel wings to a large olive shell with its pointed end up. Add two shark’s eyes or snail shells for eyes. Finally, glue on any long pointy shell, such as an auger, for a beak.
Make an enchanting garden scene, complete with a mushroom and snails! Use broken whelk or tulip shells, or any cone-shaped shells, to create a mushroom (this could also be a tree) by gluing a circular shaped shell top to the smaller end of a cone shaped shell. Use an auger shell for a snail’s body and glue a moon snail shell or shark’s eye on top for the snail’s shell. The entire scene can be affixed to a large clam shell or quahog to create a hill, or island, to display the scene. Or enjoy them as natural, handmade toys!
Let your shell collection spark your imagination and create any “creature” you like. Large round shells make good heads and bodies. Tiger’s paws make great feet. And scallops turn into butterfly wings when glued to an olive shell body.
Large quahogs, cockles and clam shells make fabulous vessels for natural, poured beeswax candles. Seashell candles add natural beauty to your living space all year long – we burned many of ours on the winter solstice! They also make lovely gifts.
A large bivalve shell(s) without cracks or holes
Wick holder tab(s) or hot glue gun and glue stick
Dedicated double boiler for melting wax
Place your shell in a container or on a surface that will keep it steady. Cut a piece of lead-free wicking to fit in the shell – It should be about ½” over the rim – and use a wick holder or hot glue to secure it in place. Next, carefully pour or spoon melted beeswax into your shell. Allow the wax to completely cool and harden before using your candle. Depending on the shape of the seashell, you may need to prop it up on a small pebble or another shell to keep the candle level while burning.
Liz Sniegocki, freelance writer and mother of two girls, blogs about simple, natural living and mothering at A Natural Nester.