Natural Materials Table


I recently attended an educators workshop. The first lecture, titled “Creating Mathematics and Scientific Environments,” was outstanding and inspiring. After a brief lecture the teachers/presenters, Michele and Christina, invited us adults to play with a trove of materials that they had lugged up from their school in southern California.


They invited us to play with the types of materials that they would offer to the children in the classroom (pictured above). There were many more materials set up here than they would offer the children all at once, but for the purposes of encouraging adults to play with the materials, this was great.


Of the 15 people in this lecture, only 3 chose to play here as opposed to the magnet and light table space.  I wonder if, at first glance, the natural materials seem more dull than light boxes or magnets? Since I can only speculate, I began to think about how I could encourage my children’s current fascination with the natural world at home. How can I validate their current interests so that they will be just as likely to choose to play with rocks as they will other things one day.


Excited by this material presentation, I was eager to add a natural materials table to our own play space.  Mike carried home a second-hand yard sale-purchased table one afternoon and placed in our back yard.


To keep our natural materials table simple, I wanted to introduce it to the girls by setting it up with one material to begin with.  I brought the familiar to a new place and to a new plane, and saw new ideas quickly emerge.



The spectacular thing about materials, whether they are familiar or new, is that the possibilities are always endless.  The “family” of pine cones below are huddled together, with the little pine cones “nursing” from the tallest one.



Stepping on the “gas” and “brake” pine cones she set up.




We have been collecting natural materials while on walks or while visiting parks, but they have never had a permanent place in our home.


The richness of these irregular, asymmetrical, complex, varied, and colored “toys” are unlike any manufactured material we have.  Natural materials are as deserving of a table as art, light, writing, or blocks.


While I can imagine some may be tempted to add a microscope, magnifying glass, or other valuable tools to this table, I suggest holding off until the child has had an opportunity to truly imagine the possibilities of the material. By keeping things incredibly simple, Greysen was able to determine the most meaningful use to her and play around ideas that related to her and our family (me and nursing, and her father and cars). Had I added tools, such as magnifying glasses, I would have suggested their purpose – to be inspected.


I plan on rotating other materials through the table before keeping a collective of natural materials on there. How do you keep natural materials in rotation?






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