Sometimes in San Diego it’s hard to tell what season it is just by looking out the window. But keeping in tune with the seasons is a terrific way for children to learn about the natural rhythms of our world. What better way to truly come to know the repeating themes of life? Themes like birth, death, renewal, and the resting that leads to the bloom.
One really fun way to bring nature and its seasons into your child’s life is to create a nature, or seasonal, table in your home. A nature table is a little spot where you and your family place a few natural objects, creating a scene that brings the outer world into sync with the inner.
What you put on your nature table is entirely up to you. It could be anything that represents nature and the seasons, especially objects found on walks and throughout your day. This can make a nature-walk more interesting for children and is a fun way to bring the daily, outside world home.
On our nature table we often try for objects that reflect the season: pine cones in winter, dried leaves in fall, shells in summer, flowers in spring. Various twigs and rocks are perfect for year-round decorations. Seasonal color and elements like water and fire can be brought in with fabrics like silk, wool and felt, and gems and little dolls or creatures add to the magic.
Often, we plunder some of the beautiful toys we’ve collected over the years from the treasured in Encinitas. If you’re crafty you can add your own needle or felt work, but I admit I’m not overly nimble in this way and above all am just trying to have fun and engage my family.
To this end, the table is meant to be played with and rearranged. As in nature, change is the only constancy here. Sometimes at night I rearrange everything in a creative frenzy that’s a lot more fun than the laundry or emailing I had planned, and the surprise for the kids the next morning is sweet. Too, I try not to care when my toddler heads to the table with a need to smash and scatter and try to remind myself the mess it's just her way of relating to it right now.
We’ve seen seasonal tables at my daughter’s Waldorf school for years, but have never actually tried it at home until this year, beginning with winter. This display featured a lot of pine cones, white wool for snow and hand rolled beeswax candles (from a kit) to light the long dark nights. Christmas and Channukah colors and scenes also found their way into the layout in no time.
Of course, for spring, we showed off eggs made of everything from wax and felt to the real thing. There were also flowers both handcrafted and real, as well as little houseplants. In fact the plants and bud vases may now be a year-round part of our look. Spring also sent me to in Encinitas to pick up several felt squares in springy colors to lay down a patchwork “ground” in about two minutes.
For summer, we headed back to Michaels for brighter summer felt squares to add and subtract from spring’s patchwork. There, we also picked up some cute wooden boats to paint back at home. Shells from Cardiff Reef beach, as well as some sand in a little wooden frame, again from Michaels, helped to complete the scene.
I decided I wanted to go big and craft a little fairy swing from some rainbow yarn and a piece of driftwood, as well. To hang it from, we walked San Elijo Lagoon on the hunt for the perfect branch to turn into a “tree.” Then my husband brought out his drill and made a hole in a little round block from our toy stash to serve as the tree’s base. We also find the nature table a nice place to display some cards of the season, so there are a couple of them from our summer anniversary as well.
I can tell you that I've been a bit intimidated by the idea of a nature table for a while, it all seemed like more work than I could think about with my two little ones and part-time work. But now that we’ve gotten it going, it’s really easy to keep up. If I spend much time on it now, it’s because I’m drawn to the release the creativity and playfulness provide.
If you decide to set up a nature table at your house sometime soon, you can always start small. Devote a small surface to a few things you guys have probably already collected around the house anyhow. You know, those rocks and that shell you can’t figure out where to put? And then go from there, as you and your family are out and about enjoying your gorgeous, North County days.
Remember, the object is to play and have fun above all. Somehow, I think your family will manage.