Two new things came to live with us recently. I don't know whether to call them hooligans, tolerance-testers, or weapons of mass destruction.

Officially, they are known as kittens. Tommy is lithe and grey. Dollop (not my fault – my son insisted) is a big, well, dollop, of white fluff. These creatures steal bread from the toaster and scamper away, growling, with it in their mouths. They torture frogs. They munch the legs off daddy-long-legs. They carry terrifying spiders OUT of the bath and release them for games all over the carpet. But Dollop and Tommy are adored by us all.

kittensWe even love them when, every single night, they knock the bunch of dried barley off the nature table and chase it around the living room. It's amazing how barley multiplies in volume of mess once it has been attacked by two Fearsome Beasts. Each morning, bleary-eyed, stumbling over car-keys (see my last post), I scrabble around on hands and knees, re-gathering barley, re-draping the nature table with its festoons of autumnal gold and red cloths.(These, it seems, have also been fun for nocturnal pouncing activities.) 

This is before I've even tasted my coffee.

The nature table is more important than my coffee.


I am unsettled if it is in disarray. Perhaps I am deeply neurotic. Ok, I am definitely deeply neurotic, but the nature table has a quiet importance to us all. Recently, I found a strange thing in 13-year-old Finn's room: a lump of polystyrene covered in green paper with loads of mushrooms growing out of it. Finn has cultivated various life-forms in his room over the years – not always intentionally – so I was less surprised than you might think. "Finn," I said, "are you growing mushrooms out of green-paper-covered polystyrene?"

"No," he said, continuing a ruthless and methodical dismantling of our old microwave in the middle of his bedroom carpet. After some seriously puzzled thoughts, I realised the mushrooms were actually matchsticks covered with those funny little things acorns sit in. Acorn cups? Caps? Hats? Does anyone know?

Anyway, the point is, he made the mushroom thing for the nature table. Because he is 13, and easily embarrassed, it will appear there as if by magic (a bit like mushrooms, in fact) – nothing to do with him. When Anna, who is 7, has something special – her golden crown that her kindergarten teacher made for her when she moved on to class one – it is sure to show up on the nature table. To her, it is sacred.

And for me? Well, it is something for which I will delay coffee consumption. So, yes, deeply sacred.

Nature TableMost families at Steiner schools end up having nature tables. There is one in the corner of every classroom. It appeared in our house when Andrew joined kindergarten 11 years ago. At first, it seemed hippy and slightly embarrassing in a what-will-my-friends-think kind of way? At the same time, it felt profoundly right. We began to notice the details of the changing seasons - so that we could replicate them on the nature table. With our more focused attention, the world came alive for us.

So there it sits, the nature table, in our living room, changing with the turning of the year. We revere it. It marks the passing of seasons that have been going on since time began, the turning of a world in which we live from birth to death, on which we depend. Portraying the chill of winter with blue and white cloths, vases of snowdrops, bare twigs hanging with silver stars cut out by Anna, allows us to focus on what is beautiful about a time of year which can otherwise be hard to love. By March, I'm desperate for Spring. I breathe a sigh of relief when I can put away the wintry colours and replace them with green. Out come the felt daffodils Finn made when I took him to parent-and-child group 10 years ago, reflecting the real daffodils that I am so pleased to see flowering again in the garden.

So the nature table represents the natural beauty of the world in which we live. By tending to it, we connect with that beauty.

If the scientists are right, this world, home to us all, is threatened with destruction of a far more serious scale than anything the kittens do to its microcosm on the table in the corner of the living room. Our children at Alder Bridge are being given the opportunity to notice it, to love it, to tend to it. I have a horrible feeling that this has never been so important.

Dorothy, Mother to three children and many cats.