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Nature-based learning is an incredible way for children to learn by using their innate skills and curiosity. Children are intrigued and entertained by the outdoors, and we can do a great deal as parents by weaving nature into our everyday lives and create amazing learning opportunities. The Waldorf education model focuses a lot on the benefits of children learning
You know the old saying, “If your child is grumpy, put him or her in water?” In my house, no matter how bad of a day we’re having, if I put some toys in the bathtub and fill it with water, everyone’s having a good time in just a few minutes. The same is true for being outside.
I will be honest, my kids are – unfortunately – accustomed to too much screen time, and sometimes when I put them outside, play doesn’t come naturally to them. It takes a little encouragement and some creative activities to get them going. But once they get going, it’s hard to stop them.
Creating a Waldorf-style play table for fall has been an activity that has paid back in dividends. We spent one afternoon hunting for materials to build our activity table, and the children have spent hours playing with the table, rearranging it, and engaging in wonderful imaginative play together.
How to begin: Gather Your M
I told my two youngest children that we were going to create a fun activity table (simply saying the words, “fun activity,” tends to get them super excited), but that we had some treasure hunting work to do to get it started. We basically did a modified version of the “Nature Scavenger Hunt,” – a.k.a. sans bugs. They picked their own “treasure baskets,” and began running around the backyard filling them up.
I swear, half the fun was going on the scavenger hunt for materials. I told them to just pick up whatever they thought looked interesting, felt neat in their hands, or items that they were drawn to. Within a short while, we had a pile of sticks, rocks, brightly-colored fall leaves, acorns, pine cones, and more.
It was an amazing opportunity for learning, too, which I wasn’t really expecting. We had conversations about what fall meant, why trees shed their leaves, and what was coming (cooler temperatures and snow, for us). My four-year-old asked why some trees turn orange and others turn red, and why pine trees look the same all year long.
We talked about hunkering down in the winter, snuggling in, and using these cool seasons as a time to slow down. We discussed how acorns work, and what animals are preparing for winter hibernation.
Using the Waldorf play table
Once you’ve collected all of your nature items (which can be done over the course of days or weeks – you can add pieces as you discover them), find a table or box or plastic bin to contain your spread. We used an old IKEA children’s table.
Allow your little one(s) to arrange their prized nature materials however they wish – this is the best part! I assisted when needed (my daughter was trying to make a branch stand up, but couldn’t figure out how, so I helped a bit), but otherwise, this was all her. She knew exactly how she wanted to arrange everything, from fern “Christmas trees,” to a leafy branch “palm tree.”
Big pieces of moss were the soft, soft grass for imaginary people to lay on. After awhile, she ran upstairs to get some of her wooden dollhouse dolls to play with in the nature-scape she created. She initially set up the items you can see in the photos, but still had a bucket full of more pieces, which she saved for later expansions.
The floor under your fall Waldorf nature table might get a bit dirty. Your hands may get muddy. And it’s quite possible a spider or two will follow you into your house, clinging to a stick or a leaf. But having your child connect with nature, feeling nature in his or her hands, and using their imagination to create an indoor, outdoor world, is priceless.
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