One of my most recent discoveries in setting up the environment is the popularity and joyfulness of a nature table. The Waldorf philosophy uses a nature table extensively in their programs. In other child care philosophies it is called the “nature tableau” or “science corner” as well as “seasonal invitation”. Any way you call is, it contains the same basic elements. It’s a special table or area where the seasons of the year are displayed through nature, fabrics and even handicrafts. The display is added to throughout the year by both the teachers and children and should be changed every seasonal change.
In my own classroom, the nature table (as we call it) serves as two purposes; to function as an exploration of the season and to aid in science related activities. I start it every year with a winter related theme, adding natural materials that the children or I find around our community.
Winter Season Example
This year, the children in my class collected pine cones and sticks around the school. We brought them back and I displayed them aesthetically around a large branch we had collected the year before. I added a book called WINTER, placing the book on a small easel (to call attention to the title) and placed it in the middle of the table. The sticks and other things we had collected, I added to the back of the display to create a bare, winter feeling. To aid with the science aspect, I always leave magnifying glasses available for the children to explore the materials closer.
Spring Season Example
As spring time approaches we put the pine cones and bare branches away and begin to bring new found materials in- buds, seeds, grasses. I may add a vase full of daffodils or other spring flowers. You can also use fabrics to include spring colors like covering the table in a light green silk to signify new growth. One spring the children were very interested in butterflies and bugs. After we had released our real butterflies into the garden, I found white and green silk butterflies and attached then to a large fallen branch we had found on one of our walks. Then I attached the branch with the hanging butterflies to the ceiling above our nature table. The children loved seeing the butterflies dancing above them and it became a great place to include pictures of the children in nature or a small painting with spring time colors. The branch remains constant over our nature table and develops and changes through the seasons along with the table.
Summer Season Example
In the summer the colors of the table turn a little more vibrant. There are brighter flowers, lots of greenery, sometimes baskets of shells or smooth rocks to explore with magnifying glasses. I may use a batik pattern fabric to create a picnic feel.
With each season or change in the nature table, I like to display a book that has to do with that season. Sometimes I will add my own handmade book of the children interacting with nature. One year we planted seeds as a group in the summer. We documented the process in a handmade book and that along with the actual plants we were growing were the centerpiece of the table.
What would you do for the Fall Season?
If you are a craftier person and like to dabble in wool felting, quilting or doll making, you can also include your handicrafts into the seasonal nature table. A great book called The Nature Corner shows a different approach to the nature table using little handmade dolls who tell their own magical tale of the approaching season changes.
Combine with Literacy?
Children can use this kind of nature/seasonal table with more of a language/literacy approach rather than a science approach. Adding dolls and animals made with natural materials can encourage imaginative dramatic play. With these kinds of displays, books which encourage more creative expression might be worth displaying; for example Fairy Houses Everywhere! written by Barry and Tracey Kane.
With a society ever increasing with technology, media and interactive gaming, its nice to have a place where children can reflect on nature and see and manipulate natural things in their environment.
Books to help you create your Nature Tables:
The Nature Corner by M.V. Leeuwen and J. Moeskops
Designs For Living and Learning by Deb Curtis and Margie Carter (p.69, 82, 107, 118, 119).
Part One of the Series -- Setting up the Environment: bits and pieces on how to create interesting, exploratory, comfortable, beautiful places in your child care environment by Summer Langille, M.A.
Books Summer recommends to help you with your nature table endeavors.
Relevant pages for Designs for Living and Learning are:
p.69, 82, 107, 118, 119