It was a nice day out, so S and I set out on a nature walk around our house to find nature treasures for X to explore. She really loves making sensory boards for her little brother, and I'd suggested a nature themed one. We took a bag with us and collecting things here and there. As we collected, we talked about the names of the plants/trees that the things she selected came from. I vetoed a few things that were too damp or too fragile - things that wouldn't mount well.
When we got back in, I had her wash all the items off with some soapy water. Though X isn't allowed to put things in his mouth and is supervised the whole time with the sensory board, he does sometimes try to get things in his mouth and his hands go in his mouth after, so we just wanted to make sure there wasn't anything dangerous on it, and wanted to get the smaller bits of debris off.
After the soapy bath, we rinsed in a colander.
We laid the items out to dry on a towel for a bit and came back to them later once they were relatively dry. S was in charge of the layout of the items. I'm always impressed with the amount of thought she puts into placement and try my best to honor it when I use the glue gun. After she'd placed everything, I quizzed her on the names of the various items and labeled them.
Whenever she makes a creation for X, I always have her present it to him herself. He lights up when he sees something she's made, which is so sweet to watch. I try to time it so that he's well rested and not fussy - so sometimes I'll delay the "gifting" until after nap.
This is the third sensory board she's made for him, so he's a pro by now. He very methodically makes his way through every item on the board. Surprisingly, he's very gentle with the items. We did have trouble with some of the things that were a bit damp sticking, so it might be best to allow items to dry overnight before gluing if you are serious about them sticking.
The clump of moss S chose was SO thick that small bits easily came off. X picked them up and pulled them close for further investigation. We reminded him "not for the mouth" and he did very well just investigating with his hands. While he's touching things, we make sure to use texture words (like "soft" or "prickly") - even though it won't click for him for awhile yet, it doesn't hurt to be in the habit now.
More close ups of how delicately he was touching everything. These pine needles were slightly prickly and stiff - he really enjoyed those.
A close second were the pine cones.
I do have an advantage in that I know the names of the local plants/trees, but certainly even labeling them "tree leaf", "stick", etc still has value. It's good for kids to learn the different parts of plants. It's also fun to find leaves on the ground (it's winter) and try to guess what plant/tree they came from. We're looking forward to making more nature boards in different seasons (With flowers in spring and summer! And fall leaf colors!)
If you just have a baby, you could take them on a walk to collect the items or collect them yourself.
If you have an older baby, you could present the items in a bucket instead of glued to a board for more exploration.
If you just have an older toddler or preschooler, you can approach it as more of an art project and learning about plant parts/names. In that instance, using glue instead of hot glue would work (i.e. if you were making a nature collage).
Please always supervise your infant/child at play. Please stay within arms reach and never leave infants/children unattended.