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Life in Community

Utter Rubbish: Discovering Treasures in Nature

October 22, 2018 by

Martha Zimmerman is a veteran teacher and dear friend of mine. At the start of the new school year, she beckoned me into her Kindergarten classroom to look at some art her students had recently created.

The pieces were so stunning that I demanded a backstory. Martha was happy to oblige and her daughter Sandy provided some photographs. Today, I’m honored to be guest-posting Martha Zimmerman:


art using Australian seeds

As the summer holidays ended and a new school year loomed, I received an assignment to move from my current class of Kindergarten and begin teaching a different group of students. I decided to use our last days together as a class to prepare in every way for their new teacher’s arrival. When I asked my students what we could do to make things ready for their incoming teacher, every hand flew up. In the conversation that followed, each child decided to give away her most loved “treasures.”

There were no promptings from me and no hesitations from them as we made a list of ideas: feathers, rock dust, crystals from the creek bed, patterned pieces of bark, wattle blossoms, sticks, seeds, dried beans, nests, resin, homemade glitter, “paper” from wasp nests, oothecae (praying mantis egg sacs, which you hope don’t hatch in the classroom).

nature art

To a newcomer, I assumed that this random collection would look like utter rubbish. But these were truly my students’ most precious treasures. Each day during the summer break, as we played outside or walked in the woods, they had gleaned little handfuls of “nature,” which were carried back to the classroom and placed carefully on our already overloaded nature shelf.

collage of Australian feathers

Yes – we had the best of times arranging and gluing our nature artwork onto boards. I watched in awe as each child recognized her stick or piece of bark, pinecone or rock – collected weeks ago – and enthusiastically placed it on her growing mosaic.

When the new teacher arrived, each wall featured a beautiful display of collected, organized, and vivid treasure. The nature shelf was empty and ready for new discoveries that my little friends would carefully bring back to the classroom to be admired and cherished.

It takes a child to see and remind us that every stone that glitters can be a precious diamond and make us rich for the day.


Follow Norann on Twitter at @NorannV.

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About the author

Norann Voll portrait

Norann Voll

Norann Voll lived in New York’s Hudson Valley until moving to the Danthonia Bruderhof in New South Wales, Australia in 2002...

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  • Dear Norann, Thankyou so much for the delightful story and especially the pictures of the children's artwork, using nature's treasures. I have seen a little of this done with the children in my classroom, but not in such a creative and beautifully constructed way as presented. I agree with nature being the treasure. When I see a tree with shiny beads of dew on every leaf, hanging down in the early morning, catching the brilliant lights from the sun, they are more precious than diamonds. All the more so for their brief adornment. Thankyou for the reminder of God's treasures all around us, that we can glorify His name with full child-like delight. Love, Heather

    Heather Kerridge