Waldorf education is in many ways about developing ways to see, hear and tune into rhythms of the world. One’s heartbeat and circadian cycles are examples of inner rhythms, while the movement of the sun and moon through the sky, and the movement of the earth about its axis, that make for day and night, the changing tides and cyclical seasons are examples of outer rhythms.
Children at Waldorf schools are often prompted to notice these rhythms and are taught to internalise the idea of rhythms by practising rhythmic exercises daily, by reciting poetry of different metres often and by keeping a nature table to observe and document the changing seasons, amongst other things.
The nature table is a very special practice that is cultivated in students of Waldorf schools and often stays with them through their lives in different forms and articulations. This space is a common feature in Waldorf classrooms around the world and allows for the students and teachers to co-create and curate a representation of their evolving relationships with the world around them. Though the nature table primarily is composed of only natural objects, it may also feature from time to time, handmade crafts, paintings, books and other such things.
In writing this article, I invite you to also begin to notice the changing seasons in the natural world around you, a practice that could prove vital in the face of climate change by building closer and more meaningful connections between ourselves and the world around us.
The nature table is not meant to be a stress inducing activity where deadlines have to be met, but is rather an opportunity to be present and to be mindful as we drift through our busy, often urban lives. To get started, follow the series of steps below.
Step 1: Start by identifying a suitable location for your nature table. This can be a shelf or the top of a piano or a small stool placed strategically against a wall.
Step 2: After a peek outside your window, adorn your chosen space with pieces of cloth that reflects the colour of the sky and the earth in your immediate natural surroundings. What you can do also, is to suspend the cloth meant to be a sky from above the chosen space, so that it falls gently and gracefully into it. Make sure to use natural fabrics like cotton and silk, that have natural coloured tones as compared to cloths that are shimmery, printed and/or synthetic in nature.
Step 3: Once the backdrop is set, plan and go on an excursion with your little one(s) to observe the natural world around. While on this walk, collect little objects that are representative of the natural world that surrounds you and your home. Examples of objects could be fossils, mineral rocks, pieces of wood, twigs, flowers, pine cones, leaves, seeds, shells, etc.
Step 4: Select some items that you have collected and place them on your nature table in an arrangement to create a scene if you can. Alternatively, instead of creating a scene, your nature table can also simply be a collection of natural objects! The idea is not to fill up the space with as many items as possible, but rather to allow the space to metamorphose as the seasons change and as time passes.
Step 5: Maintain your nature table over time. It is important to not let the nature table fall into a state of neglect by either letting it get dusty or overful or even have objects that are rotting on it. Keeping a nature table requires some amount of consistency and interest in the outside environment.
In the summer your nature table may reflect the warm tones of the earth and can be filled with yellow skies, blue streams, sunflowers and lychee seeds perhaps.
In the monsoon, your nature table may be in hues of blues, decorated with cotton clouds from which dangle beaded strings to symbolise the falling rain. A collection of mushrooms may also feature on the monsoon nature table in addition to shells and grains like rice.
At the onset of winter, the nature table may start being populated with pine cones, christmas ornaments, handmade snowflakes and maybe even dolls (like these) and animals (like these) to create biblical scenes.
In contrast, the spring nature table could just be a collection of flowers, scented candles, leaves and perhaps even a dried weaver bird’s nest!
Step 6: Inspire and be inspired! Draw elements of the nature table on drawing sheets, string seeds together to make jewellery or home decor and collect flower petals to press in books and make bookmarks out of!
Once you begin to see the opportunities nature has to offer, I can assure you that your life will change forever.