Nature Table for May: A World Beneath the Water

Nature Table for May

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.

Though the weather has finally warmed, the landscape has cloaked itself in green, and birds and peepers have returned in full force, it’s not at all summer yet. April’s forced buds satiated our appetite for natural brilliance and staved off our impatience for all things warm, but the itch is back, the rain is relentless, and the chill in the air lingers each morning. Despite the wet weather, many watery elements of our landscape are off limits: spring rains have filled rivers and streams to capacity, the rushing, rollicking waters lapping against rocks and trunks not accustomed to being a part of the river’s flow.

Regardless of the river’s springtime “off-limits” designation, wet weather calls for wet learning, and our young naturalists have channeled their already damp enthusiasm into explorations of an oft forgotten soggy habitat: the bottom of the pond. 

As is tradition in the seasonal flow of our nature studies, a tank of frog eggs joined our other seasonal treasures recently. A recent hatch revealed a very successful yield of tadpoles, with only a small handful of eggs (10-20) left behind unhatched. Our tiny friends have grown from small black streaks flitting about the bottom of the tank to still small but very well-defined young tadpoles: their mouths open and close discernibly, their skin has noticeable spots, and we can monitor their digestion through close examination of the spiral of intestines visible through their transparent bellies.

Our own fascination with the tadpoles lead to lots of research about frogs, frog eggs, and vernal pools, which then lead to the discovery that, much like any other aquarium creature, these future frogs required some specific features in their habitat. So what were we to do? Don our rubber boots and poke around at the pond’s edge, learning experientially about our tadpoles’ habitat.

Pairing our experience with a little bit of research, we discovered that not only are wood frog tadpoles quite happy to play amongst the nooks and crannies of leaf litter and munch on the algal growth found on such detritus, there are specific reasons why this type of habitat works for them. Shaded vernal pools and ponds keep the water cool, and the leaves later offer a backdrop against which tadpoles can camouflage themselves. Tadpoles can move seamlessly from one life stage to another in such areas, since they offer both vegetarian and omnivorous feeding opportunities. Wet nearby leaves (also well shaded) provide habitat for full-fledged frogs when they leave the pond later in the season.

Our nature table and aptly named “tad-bitat” are now nearly overflowing with treasures collected to illustrate the rich variety of natural elements that make up a pond or vernal pool habitat. This month’s treasures include the many plant and mineral elements of a pond habitat, including:

  • native aquatic plants
  • cattails
  • dead leaves (oak, maple, birch)
  • rich, dark soil
  • a spotted salamander (discovered deceased and dry)
  • fungus-laden sticks
  • moss

Books nestled in our nature table book bin include:


Robin Morgan Huntley, Community-Based Education Correspondent

A native to Maine, Robin joined Hilltown Families in early 2011 as an intern and remained over the years volunteering as a community-based education correspondent until moving back to Maine in 2016. Robin 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 currently lives with her husband and cats in Maine and is a 6th grade teacher.

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