Why Have a Nature Table?

Nature Table History

The nature table has a long history in school classrooms. It has historically been a small table to one side of the class upon which teachers and students have collected and displayed natural objects through the seasons of the year. This was a place of learning and discovery that the children chose to experience on a regular basis. The objects were to be looked at, thought about, and included in discussions and written compositions.

This was not merely a place of looking but of touching and exploration.

Recent investigation has found that our western educational systems leave little time for this personal connection and relationship with natural objects. The opportunities for first hand observation are being pushed aside and  resulted in what is termed learning opportunity deficit (Nabhan and Trimble, 1994) and nature deficit disorder (Louv 2006).

Why Have a Nature Table @handbookofnaturestudy

I love this quote from the magazine Country-Side from 1905.

“Of course, one of the great educational advantages in bringing natural objects into the school is that with a little care and forethought children may be taught to observe for themselves and so learn the art of thinking. Examination of specimens then has a distinct value in recording phenomena of wild life.”

Nature Table tray with items

Why have a nature table?

Providing the space and opportunity for a nature table in your classroom or home will allow your child to make first hand observations of natural objects of interest to them. Creating a nature table bridges the gap between outdoor and indoor activities. Taking time to collect these items will feed your child’s natural desire to understand the world they live in and to also engage them in real science. The early years of exposure to skills needed in upper level science will be built on a regular basis.

Nature Table in a windowsill


  • A nature table – collections displayed on a small table
  • A nature shelf – collections can be stored in boxes for easy access
  • A nature box – limited space may require you to keep your natural items up out of reach of toddlers or pets
  • A nature tray – easy way to gather similar items for exploring and storage

Adapt the ideas to fit your available space and your needs.

Nature Table in a basket

How many items?

You don’t need a large collection in order to make an interesting nature table.  Start collecting items with each nature walk outdoors, supplementing with items you gather from around the home or acquire to supplement an area of interest.


A Nature Table Is…

1. A table, shelf, box, or tray where teachers and families can gather and collect natural items for exploration and discovery.

2. A collection of natural objects gathered by the teacher or student for closer observation.

3. A place for the child to touch and interact with the natural items.

4. A place that changes with the seasons and interests of the student.

5. A collection of inanimate, living, and once living objects.

6. A place to encourage the outdoors to come indoors.

7. An aid to looking more closely at nature from your own backyard.

8. A part of a nature center, hopefully near a window for first hand observation of things in your own yard or neighborhood.

9. A place to gather tools and ideas for further investigation.


Nature Table with plants


Please use common sense when adding things to the nature table. Please be cautioned about potentially hazardous items like glass jars, sharp objects, and/or possibly poisonous items like berries, mushrooms, and leaves.

The nature table can be part of a larger nature observation center in your classroom or home. Positioning the table near a window for outdoor observation is a great way to use the nature table as a place to gather nature study tools like magnifying glasses, binoculars, a nature journal, and field guides.

Why Have a Nature Table @handbookofnaturestudy

Consider changing items from year to year to freshen up your seasonal nature table. Don’t look at the items collected as something to necessarily save from one year to the next.  Allow a place for new objects and for areas of interest. Let your children gather and collect as many items for the table as possible.

The ages of your children should be considered as you gather items for displaying on the nature table. Inspect items for signs of insects or other living creatures that may be hiding among your collection. The time spent collecting items should reflect a level of responsibility and respect for the creatures that live in your environment. Examples depending on the situation: nests, bones, feathers, larvae, wildflowers. It’s also desirable to gather a minimal amount of each item in order to respect that cycle of life in your backyard.

Handbook of Nature Study Newsletter January 2014 Cover

This article is a reprint from the January 2014 newsletter that featured many ideas for nature tables. I invite you to look in your membership library for this helpful issue of the newsletter that will inspire you even more!

Newsletter Index download

All levels of membership here on the Handbook of Nature Study include access to the complete archive of newsletters. You can learn more about a membership by clicking over to the Join Us page.

Join Us Ultimate Naturalist august 2019

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