Jennifer asked about the tree blocks shown in my Nature Play & Stories post so I thought I'd talk a bit more about them. First let me just say I love them - perhaps even more than my kids do! I love their look, their feel, and their possibilities ... We've had them for a few years now and at one time we had a whole natural building center set up in the corner ~ tree blocks, shells, stones, pinecones, and acorns, etc.
Our set was purchased at Magic Cabin, but they are available at many online stores. Google "tree blocks" and you'll see what I mean. (Add in "Waldorf" and you'll get even more.) When I did so, I happened upon a company called, plainly enough, Tree Blocks that makes a whole Math Kit of Wooden Blocks - very intriguing!
Alternatively, you can also make your own set simply enough. (I say simply, though truth be told I've never tried). In Toymaking with Children, there are directions for making homemade tree blocks (as well as for knitted animals, dolls and playstands etc.). And here is an excerpt on tree blocks from a favorite nature activity book of mine, Earthways:
"Toys from Nature: The Indoor Playspace":
"Gradually begin to use more natural materials in your home and classroom. With the children's help, gather stones, shells, pine cones, anything that nature offers. Carefully wash and dry the stones, and sort other objects into appropriately sized baskets.
Bring in a few small branches and logs. Set up a woodworking bench, and let the children help you saw them into slices. These make excellent building blocks, and offer a wide variety of building possibilities, often more challenging and interesting than building with the more uniform square and rectangular blocks. Drill small holes in the sides of some of the smaller "blocks" and insert small dowels or sticks into the holes to make fences.
Someone who knows how to use a chainsaw could cut you a whole basketful of these natural blocks in no time. Make them of varying lengths and try to cut them fairly flat, although those with slanted cuts offer interesting possibilities too ... Sand and wax or polish the blocks if you like, or just use them as is. Over time they will develop a lovely patina."
I'm not sure which sounds like more fun - making them or playing with them! I highly recommend this book - we have done many of the activities in it and I even used it to coordinate a "Little Sprouts" program for the 4-5 yos in our homeschool group's cooperative. :)
And you know, Jennifer's question has inspired me ~ I'd been hoping to do more handcrafts with the boys this fall and there happen to be some fallen birch trees out back ... Blocks made from this wood would be beautiful and would certainly inspire some wintry stories!
Here's another tip from Echoes of a Dream:
"There are a number of characteristics which are important to observe in selecting wood at its source. Look for branches without any splits. Old branches rather than "green' wood are preferable since green wood is moist, stringy and inclined to split unless a coating such as beeswax is applied to slow its drying time. Leave branches with pin prick holes alone since the worms in them pose a threat to anything made of wood."
Older children could work together on such a project and perhaps give small sets to younger siblings at Christmas. Hmmm ... time to start a file on autumn handcrafts; I'll have to think on this some more. :)