A central part of Waldorf education is cultivating a child’s connection to nature. The nature table, found in every Waldorf classroom, is one lovely way to do this.
Nature tables are usually found in a corner of the classroom, decorated with beautiful silks. They hold treasures from nature, and often include hand-made figurines of people or animals. They tend to be more elaborate in the lower grades than the upper grades.
As a parent with children at Sunrise Waldorf School, or one who is drawn to Waldorf education, you may have seen these lovely tables, and thought about creating one at home. Or maybe you read a book, or a blog, that encouraged you to create one.
For many parents, though, it can be difficult to know how to begin this practice, and what to do to keep it alive.
We asked Dorota Ignaszewska, lead teacher in our Bright Angel Kindergarten class, for her thoughts on the magic of nature tables, and how to create one at home.
According to Ms. Dorota, cultivating children’s connections to nature can provide them with a sense of safety in an unpredictable world. She said, “To experience the rhythm of the year is a terrific source of security, and also knowing who we are in the context of the world. We breathe with Mother Earth, we move with these rhythms, with the sun, and the moon, and the stars – and we can count on it.”
She also explained that inspiring a sense of wonder in children can help nurture creative thinking later in life. “Without that wonder, without that love and interest in nature, it’s very hard to generate thinking that is warm, that is lively, that is not detached.”
The practice of creating nature tables can also be nourishing for parents. Ms. Dorota said, “Especially right now, we’ve been going through so much uncertainty, and yet the seasons come. We are held by this amazing nature, and we need to affirm in us that there is a rhythm, that there is a harmony to all this chaos that is going on.” She went on to say that the process of working on the table can also be “a meditative exercise.”
While there are many wonderful reasons to have a nature table at home, how is it actually done? We have prepared 8 steps to show you how!
But, please remember to keep things simple. Do the steps that appeal to you, and don’t aim for perfection. If you only want to complete steps 1 to 3, feel free to start and end there. If you would rather do all 8 steps, go ahead! This is your practice.
Step 1 – Find a Space
Ms. Dorota encourages families to “start small.” She recommends placing a little table in the corner of a room, or securing a floating shelf to the wall. She also mentioned that some families create nature scenes as centrepieces on their dining tables, instead of using separate tables. Melissa Corkhill, of the Green Parent blog advises that a bookcase shelf, or even a windowsill, may be used. As you can see in the picture at the beginning of this blog, nature tables can even be created on the floor, as it was in our Shining Star Kindergarten.
Step 2 – Observe the Natural World
For Ms. Dorota, the glorious colours in nature inspire the hues she chooses for her table. Right now, in what she calls the “golden grain time,” her classroom table is decorated with gold. In the winter, she favours deep blue and white, to name a few.
Think about the colours you love in the current season, make note of them, and plan to use them for your table.
Step 3 – Add Colour
Colour can be added to the table in many different ways. The possibilities are endless.
Many people use fabric to decorate their tables. They often use one piece of cloth (representing the earth) to cover the table, and pin another behind the table to represent the sky.
However, these colours aren’t always used in a literal sense. In Ms. Dorota’s classroom, for example, a gold silk may be used for the sky in the autumn, instead of blue. You can also experiment with the number of fabrics.
Silk, cotton, or cotton blends are best. Avoid prints and patterns. You can find silks at the Freya-Sophia Waldorf Store, and other types of cloth at a textile store like Fabricland. If you love crafting, and are looking for a project, you could buy some plain white fabric and dye it yourself with natural plant dyes, or silk paint.
If adding fabric to your table isn’t possible, that’s okay. Think about gathering objects that add colour – leaves, flowers, berries, or lichens, for example. You can place them directly on the table, or in a small vase.
Another way to add colour is by decorating a bare branch (supported in a vase) with felt or paper leaves, fairies, or other objects. In her classroom, Ms. Dorota hangs felted fairies on a branch in the springtime, then adds leaves and flowers to the branch as spring progresses.
Below is an example of a nature table from Sarah’s Silks showing a bare branch decorated with fairies for springtime (on the right).
Felted or wooden figurines can also add a splash of colour. Here are some examples from the Freya-Sophia Waldorf Store.
Step 4 – Find Treasured Natural Objects
Now it’s time to get your children involved! Take a walk, and notice the beauty around you. If you see a lovely stone, piece of lichen, flower, acorn, or other treasure, take it home and add it to your table.
These objects will need to be refreshed from time to time. If you like, you can incorporate this process into your weekly or monthly rhythm.
Step 5 – Add People
According to Ms. Dorota, it is also important to include people on the nature table. We are part of the natural world, after all! She is careful to display figurines representing many ethnicities on her table. You can use small wooden or felted figurines for this purpose, or pictures from postcards or books.
Step 6 – Add Story
Nature tables can also be used to tell stories. When her daughter was young, Ms. Dorota would place a picture book with beautiful illustrations on her home table. In class, she uses figurines, puppets, postcards, or other objects to represent the stories she tells her students.
Think about what stories are important to you and your family right now. These can often centre around cultural or religious festivals; for example, Michael fighting the dragon at Michaelmas, or a menorah at Hannukah. You could also create a simple story, such as a harvest scene.
If a meaningful story comes to mind, find a way to include it on your table.
Step 7 – Add Wonder
While this may sound like a lofty goal, it can be as easy as placing a candle on your table. Ms. Dorota explained, “A candle is a very important piece, because it’s a sparkle of light, it’s like sunshine.” She went on to say that candles remind us “that we have this sparkle of light inside us.” Of course, make sure children are well-supervised once the candle is lit.
If you follow any spiritual or religious traditions, add objects that reflect the festivals you celebrate. Even though this does overlap with story, there can be a difference. Placing figurines on the table to tell the story of Advent is not the same as adding stars to the scene to evoke a sense of awe.
Step 8 – Refresh
Nature tables are dynamic. Refresh and update your table as you feel fit. This shouldn’t be a chore, though. Your children will naturally find new objects, and the seasons will change. Let the changes flow, and don’t overthink them.
Ms. Dorota explained, “The nature table is an invitation for creativity and connection… There aren’t any prescriptions. It’s how you live into your connection with the natural world, and the images you can bring… It’s a wonderful activity.”