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There are a lot of great reasons to have a nature or seasonal table for your children! One challenge for all nature tables, no matter how or why you use it, is clean up time. Dirt and sand fall off and out of various nature finds, leaves and flowers dry up and crumble every where, dead insects may lose body parts on your table, and yeah, nature can be just plain messy. Wiping off wood shelves is pretty easy, but if you are like us and have a Waldorf-inspired nature table, you may have play silks covering your shelves. I’ve found that shaking the silks out and then using a Scotch-Brite™ 50% Stickier Lint Roller is the quickest and safest way to clean our silks. The roller grabs all bits of dirt, sand, leaves, acorns, bugs, and more! And the pretty new Scotch-Brite™ Printed Lint Roller designs look right at home on a nature table. You can see how efficient Scotch-Brite rollers are at picking up dirt and debris in the video at the end of this post or learn more about them here.
But why have a nature or seasonal table?
Different educational approaches use nature tables for different reasons, but you can have them in your home for whatever reasons you feel are important and arrange and use them as you see fit. They can just be a fun place for kids to explore the seasons and nature or on the other end of the spectrum, some families make them super organized and scientific by labeling their finds and turning them into a sort of mini natural history museum. They are really supposed to be whatever you and your children want them to be and their purpose may evolve over time. But here are some thoughts to ponder:
- Charlotte Mason would never have wanted nature tables to act as a substitute for daily outdoor time, but nature tables can be a place for Charlotte Mason homeschoolers to store all their nature guides, books, nature journaling supplies, binoculars, and more. It can also be a place for students to keep their favorite nature finds and to reflect on nature when they are not able to be outside.
- Montessori Educators tends to use nature trays or baskets, depending on the age, which are more self-contained mini nature lessons. They might have a tray or basket that is about spring flowers, trees, mammals, seeds, interesting textures, the color green, etc. They would also often include nomenclature cards about nature.
- Reggio has less written about using nature tables, but my understanding is that they would use nature tables as an invitation for child-led exploration. Their nature tables would not be cluttered or have too many things on them. Light plays a big role in Reggio education, so the nature table would preferably be placed by a window and a light table would be great to have on hand for children to explore nature items on the light table.
- Waldorf education uses a variety of names for nature tables, such as seasonal tables, nature corners, nature tableaus, etc. and are often decorated more in regards to the seasons. The seasonal displays are a place where you and your children can follow the natural cycles of the year.
What ages are nature tables suitable for?
This will depend on you and your child, but they are used most frequently for preschool and the early elementary years, though I have heard of families that enjoy them so much, the mother continues to set them up even after her children have left the house!
What makes a good nature table?
That depends on your family’s needs and the space you have available. Some people use small tables, such as a side table, Others might use a corner nook, ledge, book shelf, fireplace mantle, etc. I’ve even seen some people dedicate entire curios to be used as a “nature table”! We used to use a Montessori shelf, but since we moved and no longer have a door for my office/our homeschooling room, I had to find a new nature table that my pets cannot get at. I finally settled on wall shelves. The important thing would be that whatever you use, it should be where your children see it frequently and can reach it easily.
What things do you put on a nature table?
This depends on what you want to put out, but here is a list of ideas to get you started (be sure to use common sense about keeping anything that might be poisonous or dangerous to pets or young children):
- From Animals
- Abandoned bird nests
- Animal print casts
- Egg shells or abandoned eggs (make sure it has been abandoned)
- Skeletons, bones, or skulls
- Snake skins
- From the Earth
- Volcanic ash
- From Insects
- Hives and nests that are abandoned (be 100% sure they are abandoned)
- Honeycomb (keep it in a jar)
- Insects (usually dead, but you could also use it to store caterpillars that you are raising, ant factories, etc.)
- Snail shells
- Wings and other insect parts
- From the Ocean
- Sea glass
- From Trees, Plants, and Fungi
- Berries or other fruit (if insects are not an issue in your home)
- Flowers (in vases, dried, or otherwise)
- Grasses and grains
- Mushrooms (use caution when handling mushrooms as some are poisonous)
- Pine cones
- Potted plants
- Seeds and see pods
- Seasonal vegetables (particularly ones that will not attract insects, such as gourds or calico corn)
- Sprouting seeds or bulbs displayed in a way, such that your child can observe the plants growth
- Twigs and small branches or branch pieces
- Kid Made
- Drawings that you or your children have done
- Nature journals
- Poetry about nature or the seasons
- Nature Study Tools
- Bird calls
- Dissection supplies
- Journaling supplies (pencils, pens, watercolors, cameras, etc.)
- Leaf/flower press
- Light table
- Magnifying glass
- Microscope with or without slide making materials
- Nature guides, nature stories, any books about nature
- Nature posters, photos, postcards, etc.
- Nomenclature, vocabulary, and/or flash cards
- Poems or quotes about nature or the seasons
- Small terrariums or aquariums (with animals or not)
- Storage containers such as baskets, jars, bowls, etc.
- Weather chart
- Waldorf Inspired
- Knitted figures and decorations
- Modeling wax sculptures of nature that you or your child make
- Play silks
- Seasonal books
- Seasonal postcards
- Small wooden animals, trees, and other natural elements
- Wooden stackers
- Wooden puzzles or other nature/seasonal toys
- Wool figures and playscapes
What do you think? Did I miss any good ideas of things to put on nature tables? Do you have a nature table? Want to have one? Why not start one this week if you don’t have one. They are lots of fun to create and maintain. I found Scotch-Brite™ 50% Stickier Lint Rollers in the cleaning supplies section of my local Walmart.