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(Illustration: Pippa Keel)
(Illustration: Pippa Keel)

BooksSeptember 26, 2020

How to make a mandala

(Illustration: Pippa Keel)
(Illustration: Pippa Keel)

An extract from The Nature Activity Book, which we strongly urge you to invest in for the school holidays.

Books editor Catherine Woulfe writes:

Written by teacher, scientist and head of the National Aquarium Rachel Haydon and gorgeously illustrated by Pippa Keel, our review copy of The Nature Activity Book landed just before Auckland’s latest lockdown. My boy fell upon it immediately and let me tell you, it was a day-saver many times over. It’s the kind of book you keep on the top shelf and pull down in times of emergency. Think of the most kid-focused, interesting and innovative parent you know; now picture having that parent silently on hand at all times.

Alongside the usual stuff – making natural dyes, compost, recycled paper – the book has the most wonderful activities that can slot easily into a busy day, and which will take place almost entirely in your child’s head. As in: sit under a tree and observe how the wind is making the branches move. What might it be like to be a bug way up there? Or: can you find a leaf that’s long and thin? What about one that’s a heart shape? Your child might spend an afternoon under the deck mapping the comings and goings of slaters, or sketching and labelling his own mythical beast. Seriously, you could find an activity in here that would make him want to sit still and look quietly out the window for a long while.

It’s absolutely perfect for stretched parents, lockdowns and school holidays. It would be a fabulous resource for ECE and primary schools, and I think younger teens would also be fascinated by some of the activities and the scientific framework that drives even the simplest of ideas here. 

Here’s a section of the intro, followed by one of my boy’s favourite activities. Skip the food (rice, beans etc) if playing with kai doesn’t sit well with you. 

Rachel Haydon, godsend (Photo: supplied)

Do you love to have fun and discover things? Are you a waewae kai kapua – an adventurer? Do you love to get outside into nature?

The Nature Activity Book is for people who like to ask questions about the world around them. What? When? Where? Why? How? Can I? Can you? Can we? It’s a book for people who are curious about the world. Your sense of curiosity is one of the best things you can ever have, so make sure you never lose it.

It’s also a book for young New Zealanders who like adventures, and who like to take friends and whānau along to share those adventures. You can explore the ideas and do the activities in this book by yourself, but they can be shared, too. Can a brother, sister or friend help you do something or go with you?

This book will help you to ask great questions like: Why is that flower so beautiful? Why does the spider in the corner of my room have exactly eight legs? What are ocean waves? You may experience mīharo (awe and wonder) when you are out and about in nature. You will begin to really look, watch and see, and most importantly, you will want to share.

So, go for it! The world needs more waewae kai kapua like you.

(Illustration: Pippa Keel)


The word mandala means “circle”. A mandala is also a symmetrical pattern representing wholeness and life that some of the world’s religions use to help focus the mind. You can make a mandala in a number of ways, but a great way to work with nature is by using leaves or leaf prints.


Lots of leaves – different shapes from different trees, but also quite a few of each kind of leaf

Petals – again, lots of different shapes but plenty of each kind

Rice, sand, dried beans, dried lentils (optional)

Flat ground to work on – concrete, tiles or wood are best, but you can still attempt this on grass or dirt or black paper

Piece of chalk

Paints and paintbrushes

Different kinds of leaves that you can use as “stamps” (optional)


1  Find a spot on flat ground that you would like to work on, or lay out your paper if you are using paints. If you create your mandala on the ground, make sure it isn’t anywhere people usually walk.

(Photo: Supplied)

2  With chalk, lightly sketch your mandala design outline on the ground or on your paper. Start with a simple design like the one pictured here. Once you are happy with your design, go over the lines and make them thicker.

(Photos: Supplied)

3  Choose the materials you will use to fill in your mandala design. If you are making your mandala on the ground, lay out leaves, flower petals, dried beans and so on in the different parts of your pattern, filling them in until no open spaces are left. If you are painting your mandala, remember that you can use things such as leaves as stamps to create really interesting patterns.

(Photo: Supplied)

Once you’ve finished your first mandala, you might like to design a more complicated pattern. Do some research and find pictures of other mandalas for inspiration.


Start off with a small pattern the size of a dinner plate – you can make bigger, more adventurous mandalas as you get better at it.


Take inspiration from nature for your mandala design – think of a snowflake, a slice of kiwifruit or orange, or a spider web.

The Nature Activity Book: 99 Ideas for Activities in the Natural World of Aotearoa New Zealand by Rachel Haydon, illustrated by Pippa Keel(Te Papa Press, $35) is available from Unity Books Auckland and Wellington

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