Discovering "What is a Nature Table" on Summer Solstice with Monica Ashley Designs
Summer Solstice is here! The sun will hold it’s place in the sky for its longest duration of the year today. All that golden goodness fills our family with a wonderful energy – we are more playful, more energetic, more often called to spend time outdoors, and more apt to relax while enjoying the good weather.
Many Waldorf-inspired families will welcome this day by laying out a fresh Nature Table scene. Let’s take a moment to explore this concept. What is a Nature Table? What supplies do you need? How can you learn more about creating Nature Tables? Monica Ashley helps Sono-Ma reveal all.
What is a Nature Table?
Our local handwork teacher and fiber artist, Monica Ashley, offers this definition: ”A Nature Table is a place to observe things children bring in from nature. It is also a space for parents to unveil a new season or festival. While the ‘table’ need only be a designated space such as a shelf, corner, group of branches in a vase (also known as a seasonal tree), this set apart space is recognized by its foundational elements. Colorful cloths, pods or flowers, stones or shells, moss or wood are traditional natural elements you’ll find in these spaces.”
“A wonderful resource for learning how to build your seasonal scene is a little book called The Nature Corner. I love the way the book shows us how to drape cloths to create nature table backgrounds…” explains Monica as she opens her book to show me examples.
At the turn of a new season, find a piano top, mantle, shelf, small table or other “set apart” space to serve as your designated Nature Table. (If you’d like a custom, wooden table – talk to Wooley Wood Works!)
Then gather some swatches of cotton or silks (we love Sarah’s Silks Play Silks) to serve as a a foundation. Think blue for summery water, green for Spring grass, or other solid colors that reflect the season. Monica refers to the “Colour Circle of the Year” in the The Nature Corner book for her color inspiration. Work with your child to lay out the fabric leaving billowy waves for water. Or tuck wool mounds underneath a green silk to form small hills. Monica’s 2010 Summer Solstice table offers a good visual example for how to use the silks:
Next, add in 1-2 larger, special items that serve as strong symbols for the season – a handmade King Winter doll for December’s table or a Sea Princess doll for the summer scene. A color pencil drawing, water color picture, or felt painting such as Monica’s sea star can also fill this role. (These seasonal dolls and paintings are just the type of felt creations you can learn to make with Monica Ashley!) You can then add in a few crystals, shells, or other smaller items to enhance the table-scape.
Monica also suggests bringing in the elements. ”You can use a glass dish filled with water and a blue cloth underneath to create a small pond. The Nature Corner shows families how to create a sand castle – bringing in a bit of earth if you’d like. Cut logs or discs of wood can symbolize earth and help you vary heights in your scene.” Candles can also bring in the element of fire and add to the mystique – perfect for a storytelling evening.
Still, keep the table rather bare at this point – simple is best, now.
Later, as the season progresses, encourage your child to add trinkets and treasures or hand made crafts. ”As children become more aware of their surroundings, you’ll notice more items appearing,” says Monica Ashley with a smile. In this way, the table becomes their place for continually acknowledging the season. Our family enjoys going for walks and hunting for just the perfect leaf, acorn cap, flower, or stone to the table. I am ever grateful for this playful way to keep our family connected to Mother Nature.
“Children should be permitted to move and touch things on the Nature Table, but keeping the items on the table is suggested,” says Monica.
Need more ideas to inspire your supply gathering and creating? See the “Counting Coconuts” Summer Solstice table here featuring wooden figures and pencil drawings, Raising Little Shoots Early Summer Nature Table here with fresh flowers and crystals, or Echoes of a Dream Nature Tables here with many cloth dolls and wool flowers.
Storytelling with your Nature Table
“Themed tables are very fun to create,” shares Monica. ”If you build your scene around a story or song, you’ll meet your child’s desire to make everything come to life in a play-filled way. It’s also nice to create scenes that are familiar to your family. Our family loves the beach, so its natural that many of our summer tables featured shells, sand colored silks, and wavy blue cloth. However, a family who lives in the redwoods might create a summer table featuring fallen wood bits and moss…”
Monica Ashley designed this season’s nature table (shown at the start of this article) around a lovely old German circle game she discovered in a book called SING THROUGH THE DAY: NINETY SONGS FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN. ”The Elfin Cap” is a bit like duck duck goose, but entails a child serving as elf – rather than duck – and holding his arms with palms together over his head to form a pointy cap. She handcrafted her elf with a “doll skin” face and hands. Recycled wool sweaters form his clothing and hat.
“I can’t wait to tell the children in my summer camp the tale of this little Elf. I think they’ll really enjoy a circle game – summer is the time when the children are full of energy. They enjoy being outdoors and moving freely,” shares Monica.
My son’s preschool teacher often used nature scapes as puppet show settings. My boy immediately designated our Nature Table as his stage, and loves to move about the shells and dolls while acting out little stories. ”ONCE upon a time, THERE WAS a …., AND HE….” is how his stories always begin.
The Parenting Passage Way lists many seasonal stories and songs you can share with your children as you visit your Nature Table. For example, Parenting Passageway recommends: The Journey To The Sun, a Slovak folktale (ages 7 and up). You can learn folk tales and storytelling with our local teacher Marianna de Croes – find out more here.
Our favorite summertime verse (author unknown to us) came to our family through Grandma Mary Bowen:
Would you like to learn more about Nature Tables? Do you need help crafting your center pieces for each season? Discover Monica Ashley: a fiber artist, teacher and mother of three. Monica revels in passing along the delight of designing with wool, and offers classes (complete with supplies) to both children and adults through her studio and local crafting stores such as Cast Away Yarn Shop.
Many local families know Monica through her involvement in the Waldorf community where she has served as a homeschool teacher, tutor, and handwork skills instructor. “Monica is an incredibly patient and thorough teacher. She is gentle and encouraging – just what I needed!” shares Annalyce La Source.
Upcoming classes for adults include:
Making a “Little One or Elf”
July 15, 2011 from 11-2
$45-65 fee (supplies included)
Downtown Sebastopol Studio
Handwork Circles for Classroom Assignments
Gather a group of parents and hire Monica to teach you how to make your apron, crayon roll, pillow case, “Little One”, or drawstring bag for your child.
Dates and fees by arrangement; 3 adult minimum
Children can also enroll in the Under the Seas week of Monica’s art summer camp. Find out more in this Sono-Ma Story.
Contact Monica today at 707.236.2829 or via her website: www.monicaashleydesigns.com
More Nature Tables
Floris books can provide you with further detail and inspiration. Monica Ashley recommends The Nature Corner: Celebrating the Year’s Cycle with a Seasonal Tableau as a wonderful guide for families. This book includes photos, stories, songs and more that can enhance your family’s experience around the nature table.