There’s a little bit of a debate in Waldorf circles when it comes to nature tables. Some tables are elaborate scenes based on children’s books or fairy tales. Others are a little simpler. They are perhaps more child-friendly, composed of items brought in from nature walks or an assortment of themed toys. While the fancy scene camp declares that their tables inspire reverence for the natural world and also spark the imagination, the sticks-and-rocks group reminds us that the point of the table is to bring the outside in and encourage children to notice seasonal changes. Sure, a child can learn by looking, but they really learn when they are allowed to touch, manipulate, and rearrange the items on the table. Both sides have valid arguments, so I’d like to suggest a compromise.
I started keeping a nature table when my first son, Ben, was about a year old. I had recently begun needle felting again, and I was really enjoying recreating the pages of our favorite stories in wool, cardboard, and silk. However, it was a less than ideal situation. First, I must admit that our nature table was not actually a table at all. It was the top of our play kitchen. Ben is a pretty enthusiastic chef; my scenes toppled constantly. Also, kids have the annoying habit of growing. While he couldn’t reach King Winter, by spring, Mother Earth was in serious jeopardy. It was time for a change.
Around the same time, I was also making a concerted effort to get my little guys outside more. We were doing a great job exploring the natural world. Ben was noticing birds and trying to befriend the local rabbits. I had to admit to myself that as much as I was enjoying the artistic endeavor that was our nature table, I was sort if missing the point. It wasn’t for me, after all. Yes, as a (pretty important, if I do say so myself) member of the family, I was certainly supposed to take part in the table’s care and maintenance, but I was never meant to be the primary beneficiary. So I did something crazy and made the nature table an actual table. A table the kids could reach. I know, wild! Of course, kids have a way of confounding your best efforts, so Ben has steadfastly refused to take any interest in any of the flowers, branches, or rocks we encounter lately. But his tree blocks are there, and each month’s Happy Hedgehog Post envelope provides a couple toys or decorations that work perfectly for a nature table. I think this is a good start.
I didn’t give up my scenes, by the way. I don’t think that they aren’t without merit. They are something I like doing for my kids, and I hope that as they get older, we can recreate their favorite stories together. So I put up a shelf directly above the table. It’s low enough that the kids can see the contents, but high enough to be just out of reach. I’m pretty happy with our new arrangement!