Nature Tables -- Setting Up Your Enviornment

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?

Crafty?  
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

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Summer Langille, M.A, Early Childhood Education Specializing 0-8 Years

Summer has been working with children for almost 15 years. The oldest of four she’s always seen herself as a caregiver. She started off caring for children as a nanny for many years. She received her undergraduate degree in Liberal Studies from San Francisco State University and has a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education specializing in birth to age eight from Long Beach State. She’s worked with infants all the way up to elementary aged children in center-based care, private school care, home-based care, back-up care and afterschool care. She was a lead teacher for an infant program and more recently a two year old/preschool program. She even had a brief stint as a brownie girl scout troop leader. She’s passionate about quality care for children and thinks the environment plays a large role in how a child learns effectively. She loves art, blocks, music, fairy gardens and picture books and wants all caregivers of children to know how important their job is to the children they care for. Summer is currently home with her baby, navigating this new role as Mama. She blogs about her family at www.summerplayshouse.com.