Creating a seasonal table with your children is a great way to keep them in touch with nature and the outdoor world, as well as to bring some outside beauty into your home.
For All Kinds of Homeschoolers
Sometimes we have had a designated nature table, something which is suggested by both the Waldorf-inspired approach and the Montessori-inspired approach to homeschooling, and something many Charlotte Mason homeschoolers implement as well.
Other times, we have just gathered seasonal treasures together as a kitchen table centerpiece.
From Nature Walk to Nature Table
Children enjoy taking a nature walk with a basket to carry treasures found along the way. On an autumn day like today, that might include gourds from the garden, red and yellow leaves, acorns gathered under the oak trees, and cattails or dried seed pods.
Today I arranged the finds in a bowl that one of my sons made a few years ago, a yellow and black fused glass piece whose colors work well with autumn finds. I guess you'd say I'm comfortable with a lack of sophistication -- I'm happy to have hand-strewn leaves under and around the bowl of gourds for added color and texture.
To complete today's centerpiece, I added a candle in a candle holder that another of the kids created at a craft night at scouts quite a few years ago. He had glued varying colors of tissue paper to a glass jar, and the light from the candle glows through the translucent paper. The memento has aged well, and if anything, the slight yellowing of the tissue paper makes it blend even better with the golds of the leaves and browns of the stems brought in from the woods.
For Each Season of the Year
In winter, our table might feature pinecones and bright red berries. In spring, a few feathers, some bright green leaves and grasses, blue pieces of a hatched robin's egg; in summer, some smooth round river rocks and Queen Ann's lace. Each arrangement brings a sense of the seasons, giving young children some iconic symbols of the ripening year.
Older children take an interest in the "what" of the seashell or snakeskin (yes!), and I keep field guides and a magnifying glass nearby for impromptu identification sessions.
One of the best things about creating a seasonal table is that gathering and placing the chosen items is a special occasion. Even a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day can be rescued with, "I know -- let's re-do the table today!" A walk in the brisk air, the scavenger hunt for natural objects that are lovely to see and touch and smell and shake, the artful arranging and rearranging of the bounty -- these refresh the senses and clear the cobwebs out of minds.
And it's interesting how, once freshly adorned, the table is a lovely place for children to sit with a cup of tea with honey and their colored pencils, sketching whilst the candle burns and Mom reads aloud.
For An Essence of Education
Having a hand in gathering the items for the seasonal table and helping to arrange them is a small act of personal power for some kids, a spark of creativity for others, an act of beauty and civilization for others.
People try to identify why homeschooling works for so many families, and they point to curricula and test scores. For us, it is the walks in the woods, the leaves on the table, and the time and presence to talk about the thorns and thistles we gather.