We do not follow one particular educational philosophy in our house, but we are very much in love with Waldorf toys. Since before my son was born, I have been admiring the rustic and natural look of building blocks made of tree branches and pieces of bark. Just looking at them seemed to evoke images and memories of walking down a forest path on a crisp fall afternoon.
For once, I will not sing the praises of a scroll saw. It does not do well cutting anything thicker than 1 inch. But you know what? A simple hand saw will do the job just fine! This is my favourite hand saw – it is a Japanese style saw, and it does the job very well. But any hand saw will work. You will also need a vise for holding the branches while you are cutting them.
Then, of course, you will need branches. Collect two or three branches of different diameters (1-2 inches should be enough). If you find branches from different trees, it will provide an interesting variety. Here we have walnut branches and birch branches. A big old walnut tree was cut in our neighbours’ yard a year ago, and we have been benefiting from it ever since, making a fairy house and some fairy furniture. But if you go for a walk in the forest, you will be sure to find many fallen branches!
If your branches came from a living tree, it is not advisable to start work on them right away – you should put them in a dry place and leave them for several weeks. The branches need to dry before you start cutting them, otherwise you will have small crack in the blocks. It is a small cosmetic defect, so if you do not mind, as your children probably will not care, you can skip this step. If you do wait, you will notice the cracks forming at the ends of branches. However they will not go very deep: after the branch is dry, you will simply cut off its ends.
Once everything is ready, clamp your branches in the vise and begin cutting.
You will be aiming to make many blocks of different thickness and diameters.
Some of them can be additionally cut in halves. It will be fun to turn them into furniture later on!
Some sticks have peculiar shape, and you can include them in your set too: children will probably find most use for interesting pieces! My favourite is a piece of bark that I cut into four little arches.
After cutting, you might want to sand some rough edges if there are any. Hand saws usually leave a pretty smooth surface, particularly fine-toothed Japanese saws..
What to do with nature blocks?
1. When we play with nature blocks, we like to build forest-inspired scenes for our animals (over time, we collected a few of very realistic-looking Schleich animals: here you can see the bear, the fox and the raccoon). They seem to belong in this surrounding like nowhere else.
2, Another favourite is building rustic doll house furniture. Again, animals can become the inhabitants of such a house, or you can invite fairies and gnomes to visit. These birds are from a set of Safari backyard birds.
3. Simply stacking the blocks the way children like to do with any blocks is fun too!
4. And, of course, these blocks will complement any nature sensory bin!
What nature-inspired toys are you going to make this fall? Or have in the past? We will be excited to see them. Please, participate in our creative challenge!