Conker Creatures

One of our favourite autumn activities is making conker creatures. Like most families, we absolutely love collecting conkers (or horse chestnuts) in the autumn. There’s something so tactile about those smooth, shiny shells that’s just irresistible. A conker hunt means the thrill of finding a shiny conker hiding under crinkly leaves, or revealing hidden treasure by winkling them out from a spiky green casing. Just irresistible!

It takes the kids no time at all to amass a great big pile of them and, as they last for ages, they make a great material for some lovely autumn crafts. We’ve come up with lots of ideas on how to use them, and one activity we often do, is creating these cute Conker Creatures. 

A conker creature made with twigs and feathers.
A friendly conker creature!

How to make Conker Creatures

To make Conker creatures you’ll need a few basic supplies. We like to use natural materials for a Forest-Schooly type of activity. But it’s hard to resist the lure of googly eyes and colourful craft supplies, so when it comes to decorations, let your kids guide you!

Foraging for conkers in the autumn
Collecting conkers is one of the joys of autumn!

Our essential list is as follows: 

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Materials needed

  • Conkers/Horse Chestnuts. You could substitute acorns or other nuts (foraged or otherwise) if conkers aren’t readily available in your area.
  • Sticks. We like to use short twigs (as free and natural as it comes) but you can use bamboo skewers or tooth picks too.
  • Boring tool. Not a dull tool (ahem – in either sense!); this is something to make holes in the nuts. I invested in these gimlet hand drills, and I am in looooove with them! Alternatively you could try this kids palm drill.If you’re not ready for this commitment to the world of conker-drilling, you can use a sharp metal skewer, screwdriver, or bradawl – the conkers are actually quite soft and easy to pierce.
  • Mushroom nutcracker (optional) – these are perfect to act as a clamp to hold the conker. Using these allows the kids to make their own holes easily, which can otherwise be tricky for them to do safely. Also, they’re great at cracking nuts. You could also use a kids’ hand drill and vice set, like this one from Haba.
  • Decorations! Go wild with natural materials – decorative grasses, flowers, and colourful autumn leaves all look great and are another thing to go on a hunt to find (bonus activity there!). How about little shells, pretty pebbles, or found feathers? As long as it’s not too big for their conker creations and is (relatively) clean or cleanable, anything goes! Craft materials like coloured feathers, googly eyes, paint and glitter also work well, and don’t forget fabrics, raffia, string or wool too.
  • Plasticine or modelling clay are useful for sticking on your decorations or for using to add features by themselves.
mushroom vice and gimlet hand drills
These small gimlet hand drills are perfect for making holes in conkers

Conker Creatures Instructions

Drilling conkers

Once we’ve got our supplies, I find it easiest to start by getting the kids to choose their ‘body’ conker. Is it going to have four legs? Two legs? Ten (that’ll need a big conker!)? Or maybe even none at all?

Get the kids to decide on which side is the belly of the beast (so to speak!) and then mark where the leg holes will go. Get drilling!

Don’t make the holes too deep as you may want to put further holes for arms, neck or tail – you want just enough depth for the twigs to sit in securely. I find that the holes are usually tight enough to hold our sticks securely without glue, so just pushing the sticks in firmly should do the trick. 

Preschooler drilling holes in conkers
Nice and secure, and away from fingers!
Preschooler using a drill and vice to make holes in conkers
The right tools make drilling holes easy.

Adding features to your conker creatures

If you are doing the drilling, get the kids to choose their leg sticks and a conker for the head while they wait. Let them assemble the body and legs, testing for stability, then decide on the other features.

Will they add a head on a long stick, like a giraffe or diplodocus? Will they have a big head directly on top, like an elephant or gorilla? Maybe they have a little pinecone or acorn to use for the head. What about wings, tails, or horns?

Repeat the drilling process for any further holes, and then let them go to town with decorations. Bear in mind that the shiny parts of the conker don’t take pen all that well, so if they want to add colour it’s easier to use thick paint, or you could try PVA glue for scraps of tissue paper and glitter. 

A conker dragon, with painted wings
A conker dragon, with painted wings!
creatures made with conkers, twigs and other natural bits.
A herd of conker creatures.

Conker creatures ideas

They can have so much fun adding personality and decorative features to their creations, often coming up with ways to use their materials that I would never have thought of. Mine have covered conkers with glue and dipped into sand; they’ve given them painted-pebble ‘warts’, conker case hats, leaf coats and acorn shoes.

Try using plasticine or play dough to mould features. Or you could even raid the kitchen cupboard for out of date cake sprinkles (I always seem to have some of those!).

A spider made from conkers and twigs
This friendly spider needed a sparkly web to sit in.

Once they get going, the kids can spend ages making their creations, and then there’s still more imaginative play to be had once they are finished. How about making a house for them out of a cardboard box? Or how about a mini-den or a nest out in the garden, or even back under the tree where you gathered the conkers? We did sparkly spiderweb pictures with a home-made stamp for our spider conker, which was another fun activity.

Autumn conker fun

We love making these crazy conker creatures – it’s one of the highlights of our autumn activities. I love that it can be quick and simple or, when needed, can turn into an all-rainy-day amusement to keep the kids happy when the weather’s bad.

If you are looking for more conker activity ideas, we have more conker craftiness for you to try! So, next time your kids come home with a sackful of chestnut treasure all their very own, you’ll have plenty of ideas to keep them busy! 

Horse chestnuts threaded on butchers string for playing conkers
How to conquer playing the traditional childhood game of Conkers!
Throwing 'Comet' made from tissue paper, ribbons, and a conker.
Make a throwable comet out of conkers and tissue paper!
DIY Halloween eyeballs made from conkers
Use up their old conkers to make these spooky Halloween eyeballs with your kids

Safety tips

A note on safety: if your child wants to drill the conkers themselves, I’d recommend they wear a thick gardening or other type of kids protective glove only on the hand holding the conker (not the drilling tool), just in case the tool slips. Ideally, the conker should be held within a vice or holder (like our mushroom, above) to make things even easier.

We only do activities like this under close supervision and make sure that the rules of using these sharp and pointy objects are well understood before we begin! Bear in mind that some conkers are small enough to be a choking hazard – another reason to supervise play closely! You know your child best, so use your own best judgement to decide what is safe for them to do. 

This post was originally published as a guest article on the Meemoo and Pook blog. Meemoo and Pook can now be found exclusively on Facebook.

a dragon, squirrel and deer, made out of conkers
Conkers make perfect natural construction materials.

More from Rhubarb and Wren

Looking for more fun things to make and do with the kids? Check out these great activities from Rhubarb and Wren!

Autumn craft for kids making DIY Halloween eyeballs out of conkers.
Horse chestnuts threaded on butchers string for playing conkers
How to conquer playing the traditional childhood game of Conkers!

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A conker dragon made by kids
A conker dragon, with painted wings!
conker creatures made
A herd of conker creatures.

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