Monday, 24 November 2008

Treasures in the Trees

The Wool Fairy took a brief hiatus from her yarn basket this past weekend in exchange for some time in the workshop. Wool may be #1 on her list of favorites, but wood runs a close second!

A year or so ago, I made Chi-Chi and Muffy a set of “tree blocks”. Our family’s set of tree blocks continues to grow in size as new pieces are added on a regular basis. Each time a take a walk in our woods, I’m on the lookout for unique and interesting branches to add to our collection. These blocks are incredibly easy to make and are a great project for the “beginner toymaker”. All you need is a couple of branches, a saw, some sandpaper and some beeswax. My kids absolutely love assisting with this woodworking project and take great pride in their little works of art. Obviously, Hubby and I use the power tools! Chi-Chi and Muffy delight in carefully sanding and polishing each piece.

What I love most about these blocks is the fact that each one is so very different from the next. Every block has its own unique “personality” and it is truly fascinating to observe the children interact and create with them. One day they may choose to build an elaborate structure for their farm animals. The next day you might find them playing with just one special block, which has been magically transformed into a hammer, a pancake or a telephone! I make a point of using different species of wood to add interest and texture to the collection. Chi-Chi is actually able identify the dogwood, maple and birch branches! My father, a retired forester, would be proud.

As an adult, I find myself picking up the blocks every once in a while and building my own fairy tale castle! They really are a delight to handle and they make you appreciate the beauty of wood. Each block also tells it’s own story. Some branches were salvaged from my parent’s yard following a windy autumn storm. Some I simply stumbled upon during one of my walks in the woods, such as our blocks made of burls. I’ve tinkered a bit with carving very simple figures from the branches as well. A near trip to the emergency department put a bit of a damper on my carving endeavors. Ouch!

The little ones are also learning about caring for and respecting their belongings by performing regular “maintenance” on their block set. Every now and then, we pull out the beeswax and set to work waxing and buffing the shine back into their blocks. They absolutely adore this exercise, though they tend to get a little over-zealous with the beeswax! They watch in amazement as the patina and sheen emerges from the newly waxed piece and they delight in the aromatic scent of the beeswax. I’m excited to be putting together a little set of these blocks for Chi-Chi’s Montessori preschool! I’ve got a nice little selection of branches drying out just for this purpose. I have no doubt these little polishing blocks will be a hit with Chi-Chi’s classmates.

Anyone playing Santa this year might want to take a walk in the woods. You never know what treasure might be hiding among the branches!

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