Nature Table

Nature Tables - A Celebration of the Season

Posted: September 28, 2020 | Updated: September 28, 2020
Created by: Ms. Sylvia

The Fall Equinox came and went this week. With the change in seasons now official, I finally set up my Fall nature table.

In Waldorf and Montessori education, nature tables can be found in virtually every classroom and home. Beyond those movements, however, a nature table may seem an oddity. Let’s look at the idea of a nature table a little more closely. I love having mine. It may be something you and your family would like to try!

What is a nature table?

A nature table is a space that you decorate to reflect the beauty of the season. Using natural materials and hand-made items to represent the changes you see in nature, you can make a nature table as a place for your family to gather, observe, create, and celebrate.

How do you make a nature table?

No space is too small to start your nature table! A shelf will do, or even part of a shelf. I have seen beautiful set-ups simply laid out on the floor, either against a wall or in a corner. Using a space low to the ground makes it easier for small children to interact with the nature table, which can make it even more special for them.

Once you’ve chosen a space that will work for your nature table, the real fun begins. Go on a walk with your children and discuss the changes you see around you. Are there any new colors? Have any of the plants, trees, or flowers changed? Do you see any animals that aren’t usually in your neighborhood during other seasons? Do those animals look any different? Some small things can be gathered (leaves, seeds, flowers, or pebbles) and added to your nature table. You also might draw the animals you see or write down a poem about the season. Those items will be a wonderful start for your nature table.

From there, find something that represents the season and appeals to each of the senses--- a scent, a texture, a beautiful image, something edible that might sit on the table for a day before becoming a meal or snack, something to read or sing aloud… whatever you choose, make your nature table a celebration of the senses, as well as the season!

I love to have some sort of fabric on my table, because I love the texture and love to have something that drapes (you’ll read why when I describe my current nature table!). Of course, you can always find cloth from around the house -- a table cloth, a scarf, a napkin. Even (and especially!) used clothes that are too well-loved to donate can be repurposed as a covering for your nature table. However, if you’re looking to invest in some cloth that can serve many purposes, I would recommend buying and hand-dyeing silks. Dharma Trading Company is my favorite source for them! These will be beautiful on a nature table, but are also a wonderful addition to the toy chest. Playsilks are versatile, creative, and hours of fun.

When making your table, remember that simple is beautiful and that you can (in fact, you should!) always add or change things through the season.

Why bother with a nature table?

A nature table helps us to notice, celebrate, and become attuned to the season changes, whether they are dramatic or subtle. Where I currently live, the changes in season are relatively subtle. All through the year, temperatures stay pretty steady and many of our trees are evergreen. However, nonetheless, each season has its distinct patterns and changes. A nature table helps us to see and enjoy those changes, as we gather natural treasures and create scenes to reflect the beauty happening outdoors.

Children learn best through a combination of all the senses and a nature table provides them the opportunity to experience and reflect on the season through all the senses. You might use different textures that make different sounds when touched (smooth stones, rough stones, leaves, silks, moss, etc) to evoke both sound and feel. Consider integrating scent through spices, flowers, herbs, and oils. For young children (even through third grade), it’s better to offer these kinds of experiences and discussions than to have an academic conversation about the scientific background of the seasons. When the seasons can be fully experienced, enjoyed and observed, the understanding of the scientific principles behind them is more memorable, better integrated, and much more meaningful.

A nature table can also ground the routines of your day. It can create a sense of beauty throughout the day and through the whole season. Gathering around the nature table to sing songs and tell stories about the season can also make the table a wonderful place to come together. For example, you might start your day by lighting a candle and saying a poem together. You might go on a walk and return old treasures (stones, acorns, leaves) from the nature table along the way, while also gathering new ones. You might tell a story about Fall by the nature table in the afternoon and end the day as you began it -- by lighting a candle, saying a poem, and carrying the candle through the dark to bed. Little rituals like these set a predictable, comforting pattern for the day -- and that comfort is only greater in times like these, when so many of us have had our usual routines upended by the pandemic. That comfort gives us strength and courage to weather the changes the new season brings.

Fall in particular is a season for gathering -- gathering our harvest in the literal sense, gathering together when we can safely, and gathering up our courage, too. Each of us is facing our own individual challenges, as well as the collective challenges that face our country and our world. Whatever we can do to welcome in peace, comfort, community, and warmth helps us do--and be--our best for each other.