Nature Tables: A Year in Review

Nature Tables: A Year in Review

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new nature table whose contents inspire learning along a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. A tradition carried out by teachers, environmental educators, and nature-curious families, nature tables bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. The idea behind a nature table is to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season, and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves. A nature table can include a variety of items, and is often accompanied by a set of books and/or field guides so that children can take part in further learning at their own will.

After a year’s worth of Nature Tables, my own awareness of the local landscape has become heightened greatly. After a full seasonal cycle filled with monthly posts, it is time to reflect on what has come and passed, so as to look forward to another year’s worth of awakening, growth, and rest. Whereas humans mark their starting over point in mid-winter, when January’s snow coats the ground and temperatures remain frigid, nature begins again in spring, when the ground re-emerges from the melting slush and thrusts forward a whole new crop of green and growing life. And so it is that in anticipation of this forthcoming burst of new life that I reflect on a year’s worth of collecting, a year’s worth of paying close attention to the subtle and constant changes taking place all around me…

As the snow melts this month and the earth (and its non-human inhabitants) awaken and return to more active lifestyles, as a teacher I too will come to life, opening my eyes wider, getting my hands a little dirtier, and venturing further away from familiar spaces than I did last year. Alongside me will come young explorers, those perhaps best equipped to take note of the small subtleties in landscape that make for excellent discoveries – their young brains not yet settled into a routine of seeing and not-seeing.

Small hands have lead me to some of the most unexpected of my discoveries during the past year, and the variety of treasures at my fingertips has greatly expanded as a result. Nevertheless, we’ve only just scratched the surface, with posts highlighting exciting yet not unusual treasures like birds’ nests, feathers, leaves, twigs, and stones. This first year of collecting and documenting has served as a useful one, allowing a strong foundation of understanding to be built. We’ve seen the seasons change our landscape and we’ve collected the basics, but now it’s time to dig a little deeper (both literally and figuratively). There are more challenging topics to explore, more complex collections to be made.

As the earth awakens, so will our minds. As the earth grows, so will our understanding. As roots slither deep into the soil, our own roots to our surroundings will grow deeper, pulling us into the warm, earthen depths of the incredible natural world upon which we depend.

This month’s nature table is a collection of treasures accumulated over the past year, assembled together for an event at the Smith College Museum of Art. Items were arranged along a seasonal spectrum, beginning with spring. Pieces of the last twelve Nature Table posts can be seen in each season.

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Useful titles for the next year will include:


Robin Morgan Huntley, Community-Based Education Correspondent

A native to Maine, Robin joined Hilltown Families in early 2011. She is a graduate of Antioch University with a masters in education. Her interests within the field of education include policy and all types of nontraditional education. For her undergraduate project at Hampshire College, Robin researched the importance of connecting public schools with their surrounding communities, especially in rural areas. Robin lives and teaches 5th grade in the Hilltowns of Western MA and and serves on the Mary Lyon Foundation Board of Directors.

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