We love to use natural materials whenever possible when creating environments for children. They are free, environmentally responsible and extremely engaging to children. We also believe that there is a spiritual benefit, as the apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” and we like to think that by giving our children natural items to hold in their hands, that God’s power and great love for them is being made manifest to them.
In our new book “A Summer of Playing Skillfully” we made some blocks out of downed tree branches from a recent hurricane. The reaction from children has been amazing! As we traveled on our recent speaking tour across the country, we carried our blocks with us, and the children created the most amazing things!
Here are the detailed instructions that Brendan used to make the blocks:
Nature Block Tutorial
- Gather down tree limbs, branches, logs, and sticks. I primarily used downed wood because I didn’t want to damage anything that was living. Look for branches that have a junction of three or more branches.
- I used a Workmate 300 to hold the wood in place because it has a built-in vice. Lock the wood down tight enough to hold it but not too tight to mar it.
- For limbs larger than 3 inches in diameter I used a 16 inch curved pruning saw (see figure 1). If smaller than 3 inches, I used a double-sided pull saw (see figure 2). The double-sided pull saw had 14 teeth per inch on one side for smooth cuts and 7 teeth per inch on the other side for rough (quick) cuts.
- To cut discs, I start with a fresh cut. Then, guided only by eyesight, make another cut parallel to your first cut.
- To cut forks, I cinch down the “one branch” side, then using the pull saw, cut two branches at the same time. Then I turn the branch, and cut the other branches using the already cut ones as a guide. Once I have the “multiple branch” side cut, I turn the piece around so that I can now cut the “one branch” side. Again, give yourself plenty of room at each side so you can make adjustments to keep the piece as level as possible. It’s easier to cut a little here and there then it is to add segments.
- I used an orbital pad sander to sand the ends of each piece. It’s up to you if you want to sand the bark.
- I was fortunate that I found some pieces that had been eaten through by termites. I carefully used an awl to clean out the channels dug by the termites.