A nature table is a diorama made to reflect seasonal changes. It’s used by Waldorf method curriculum to help children learn about their natural environment and to understand the abstract concept of time. This nature table that I made shows wild flowers that we collected together outside, “spring” animals, such as the bunny, duck, and *currently chewed* chickadee, our felted egg and spring fairy, and a felted nest. The background watercolor is a stylized depiction of a classic spring story called The Root Children, and the fabric is a silky hijab (most people use small play-silks, but I have a gajillion hijabs, which happen to be the right size…).
The lessons to be learned here are copious. Eggs have beings inside of them. Animals nest- even bunnies. Animals make their appearance after long winters, in the spring. Spring flowers are different than summer flowers, and turn into fruit or leaves. Budding nature is in a muted pastel pallet. Buds emerge from the earth…and so on and so forth. The fact that the diorama is interactive and friendly to exploratory hands (i.e. can be played with) seems almost crucial.
I decided early on that I wanted OUR nature table to be interactive. I’ve read some perverse posts on other sites in which mother’s keep them out of reach to little hands. To me this defeats the purpose. Children gather information with all of their senses, not just their intellect, so why rob them of the opportunity? We keep ours in the common area to avoid mishaps with spills or things being put in mouths *ahem* like chickadees. My most chuckling apologies to the person that I told that my son was past the age of putting things in his mouth. Hello, molars.
I originally saw this nature table on another site for much more than I could afford, and I’ve secretly been plotting ever since on how to hack it.
Beautiful, right? Gah, the coveting. This is why you should never ever ever shop online at Waldorf stores. Unless your husband is a neurosurgeon. Or Channing Tatum. If your husband is Channing, you’d probably HAVE to shop at Waldorf stores…all the TIME. Because you’d have a million children. Handsome children. I digress.
So, anyway, being the sculptor that I am, I was like- Why can’t I make this out of cardboard? It doesn’t HAVE to be chintzy. I began with a box, and cut it to be like this:
Then I drew a tree design on one side, cut it out, and used the pieces to trace another design on the other side using an Exacto knife.
Ok, that step was a little easier said than done. But its worth it. It looks AWESOME.
Then I painted the whole thing. I mixed white and a little bit of brown acrylic. I think a high-gloss household paint would work too. Don’t use tempera paint- it will be too wet. There’s a pleasant side effect to SOME warp that happens with the paint- it causes the sides to bow a bit, which looks really groovy.
I added a hijab that I tied into bunches with string. Hijabs are Islamic veils for women, and generally cost about $5-7, and are exactly the same size and material as “play silks”, coming in a wider variety of colors and prints. I get mine at Alhannah.com.
The pink one was nice, but it felt too gender bias. The green also better reflects the color pallet outside.
Then I made a watercolor of my stylized depiction of root children. I *could* have color photocopied a page, but I didn’t want it to be exact, I wanted it to be my interpretation. Granted, I am NOT a 2D artist, I’m a sculptor, but it’s not terrible. If you don’t like your own artwork and don’t want to photocopy things, have your kids make a backdrop.
I added some carved Ostheimer figures.
And I added a nest and fairy egg (because what is springtime without eggs?!).
For more information on how to construct a nature table and seasonal activities, I suggest:
- Seven Times the Sun: Guiding your Child Through the Rhythms of the Day by Shea Darian
- Earthways: Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children by Carol Petrash
- All Year Round (Festivals and the Seasons) by Ann Druitt
- The Children’s Year: Seasonal Crafts and Clothes by Stephanie Cooper
- A Child’s Seasonal Treasury by Betty Jones
And other books:
- Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Nurturing Our Children from Birth to Seven by Barbara Patterson
- Toymaking with Children by Freya Jaffke