In our newest story, “A Gift from the Nature Table”, Martin and Sylvia need some quiet time but they’re having a hard time settling into it. Whether they are inside or outside, nothing seems to satisfy them. They wish it wasn't so cold and snowy — otherwise, they would enjoy the relaxing gifts of the natural world! Momma points them to the nature table on which treasures from all year round sit. From there, imagination draws them into a delightful afternoon of play.
What is a Nature Table?
A nature table is a great way to bring nature-inspired learning right into your home. You can get started by designating a spot to put all those treasures your little ones collect on walks in nature! Including time in your rhythms to collect or create these items can be part of the fun and learning. We’ll walk you through some helpful tips that will inspire your children to explore and play with the gathered items. This practice can help children to learn about and interact with the natural world in their everyday rhythms. Change the items on your nature table as the seasons change to enhance this experience even more. You can also include nature-based crafts into your seasonal table.
Tips for Creating Your Own Nature Table
Choose a designated spot
This doesn’t have to be a table! You can use a shelf, a stool, or any other spot that makes sense and works for you. The space can be larger and more prominent, or small (like Sylvia’s plate on a stump in the living room). You just need a surface on which to put your seasonal items. A windowsill can work too!
What to Include
- A cloth to cover the table (if you’d like). You can use deep, warm hues, or opt for blue or white to highlight the treasures.
- Gathered items from nature walks: acorns, leaves, rocks, dried flowers, shells, bark, feathers, fossils, pinecones – anything that captures your little one’s attention! You can also include a magnifying glass for closer inspection for curious kids.
- Fresh leaves, branches and blossoms, or small potted plants bring life to the table.
- Wooden or nature-based toys. Peg dolls or felted itemscan add playfulness and warmth.
- Nature-based crafts inspired by your finds. (See our suggestions below!)
- Your favorite seasonal book, field guide, or field journal can live on your nature table as well.
You can gather items from nature walks, purchase or craft simple toys, or include other hand-made items inspired by or created from natural elements.
Ideas to Organize and Contain Your Items
Containing your nature items helps make your nature table manageable and keep everything in sight. This helps encourage kids to explore, play, and take over! Here are ways to organize your items:
- Use an egg carton or mini-muffin pan to separate small collections and make them easy to grab.
- Thrift or reuse old tins, jars, bowls, and bottles to hold sticks, pebbles, pinecones, and more.
- Go vertical! If your littles have found lots of leafy treasures and are running out of space on their table for play, string some twine on the wall above the table and hang your nature finds by clipping them on with clothespins.
Nature-based Crafts for Your Seasonal Table
Including nature-based crafts in your seasonal table helps encourage play-based learning. We’ve gathered some of our favorite projects from the Sparkle Blog to get your started.
Sew Felted Acorns
These felted acorns are really quite easy. As long as your children are old enough to manage a felting needle, then they can form the felted acorn nut. Use this tutorial from the Sparkle Blog to get started with just a few supplies! (https://www.sparklestories.com/blog/post/sparkle-crafts-felted-acorns/)
Create Mushroom Spore Prints
Mushroom spore printing is often done to differentiate between similar-looking species, but can be a very fun and simple nature study to do. Enjoy this easy tutorial for a fun mushroom art project — it can reveal simple works of art! Follow this tutorial on our blog to start creating your own. (https://www.sparklestories.com/blog/post/nature-school-project-mushroom-spore-printing/)
Thread a Waxed Leaf Banner
This Sparkle Craft (https://www.sparklestories.com/blog/post/nature-school-project-waxed-leaf-banner/) is a wonderful way to appreciate colors and the beauty of the changing seasons. It’s the perfect project for those leftover wax leaves from your earlier fall excursions! Let the glorious gold, red, and orange hues of gathered leaves contribute to that warm, cozy holiday feel by creating a simple leaf banner or garland. Use it to adorn your nature table.
Tips for Play-based Learning with Your Nature Table
One of the foundational ideas of a nature table is to create a venue for interaction and exploration. Enjoy setting up beautiful and inviting arrangements, and then allow your children to engage. Sprinkle small wooden animals or figurines throughout to inspire small hands to play and create stories and experiences. Add a magnifying glass to stone and flower collections, inspiring all to take a closer look. Invite your children to count the number of rocks or petals, or ask them to explore the yard to look for extra treasures to add. Talk about the season at hand as it relates to the objects on your table. Most of all, set it up and then let the littles take over. You can always go back at the end of the day and rearrange.
Our Favorite Winter Nature Tables
Sparkly Holiday Nature Table: Sparkle HQ
This is the very sort of nature table that’s been in the Sewell/McCann house since the boys were little. It’s simply a combination of small evergreen branches, favorite lovely stones, and wooden animals. (The scotch pine branches were leftover from cutting the base of the Christmas tree! The junipers are from a local park.) This version sits in a low ceramic planter, but you could put it on a large plate or platter. To keep the greens fresh, either add water to the base or remove the wooden animals and mist with water.
Deconstructed Nature Table: Sparkle HQ
Lisabeth, Sparkle CEO, routinely has some form of nature table in her house. She’s always been one to collect stones, shells, pinecones, flowers, and other natural items wherever she goes. She calls this one “deconstructed” – since her boys are in their teens, they no longer need it to be accessible for play. Nature tables can be for sheer enjoyment! This one is from her recent hikes in the high desert of New Mexico.
A Winter Scene in Florida
Our Sparkle Stories Marketing Director, Jessica, created this Nature Table in her home state of Florida. Most of the items were found on walks near her home. The divider for separating acorns, pebbles, berries, and dried orange slices is a vintage muffin tin. Jessica has also included other thrifted holders, along with vintage wooden toys.
Your nature table will also vary depending on where you live, what the temperature and weather are like, and your local flora and fauna. Find inspiration in your unique corner of the world and take the opportunity to teach your little ones about these differences as well!
Little Leaf Kindergarten’s Advent Table
Kobi Caterer of Little Leaf Kindergarten has woven a simple yet meaningful Advent tradition for the Caterer home.
The Caterers incorporate the traditional Advent-candle-lighting ritual into their Winter Nature Table creation, adding found items from their nature walk and reciting the classic Steiner Advent verse along the way.
Kobi also reads the Swedish tale of the Yule Tomte (link here) each day of Advent, bakes saffron buns on Santa Lucia day, and plays Sparkle Stories’ own Martin & Sylvia’s Audio Advent each year!!
Laine Maison’s Winter Scene
Maybe you are drawn to the idea of including simple, hand-crafted toys into your table but feel a little overwhelmed at the prospect of having to create all the parts yourself. If that sounds like you, take a peek at Laine Maison’s Winter Scene.
These unique and handcrafted scenes make the perfect focal point for your seasonal nature table. This darling company features the work of Josephine Broekhuizen. A former theatre set and interior designer, she now works as an object designer and fine artist producing these lovely creations.
This can be a great centerpiece around which to build your winter nature table!
Evergreen Nature Table: Sparkle HQ
You can create a seasonal nature table for holidays or a change of season, or you can keep an “evergreen” table or shelves where rocks, stones, leaves, pinecones, or other natural treasures can be kept and children can regularly explore and play. Set aside a section of a low table or find a simple set of shelves and enjoy displaying all the “finds” that your family collects when outside.
More About Martin & Sylvia
Click below to listen to “A Gift from the Nature Table,” the latest story in our new Martin & Sylvia Collection, Learning Days. Explore the entire Martin & Sylvia series here (link to https://www.sparklestories.com/series/martin-and-sylvia/).
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About the Author
Jessica is a content creator, writer, strategist, and vintage pyrex collector. She has a passion for facilitating authentic connection, whether that's through her work at Sparkle Stories or her songwriting.