Nature Table for January

Crusted Landscape Crackles with Nature Treats

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.

January’s slow and chilly start has brought with it some interesting natural treasures. However, as the local landscape is currently crusted over with a thick coating of ice and a slippery dusting of fluffy snow, most of these treasures are the kind best enjoyed indoors rather than out. And, so as to discourage us from becoming frustrated with the cold weather (and therefore forgetting how wonderful the outside is, even this time of year), our current collection follows an exciting theme.

Compiled somewhat by accident, the table is filled with the clues (big, small, feathery, bony, scat-like, and otherwise) left by animals of all shapes and sizes at the scene of some kind of crime – or as our neighborhood creatures would call it – a meal. A true nature detective could take a few quick, close-up looks at our treasures and determine who ate what based on evidence of bite marks, the foods that have been feasted upon, and the size, shape, and contents of bits of scat and regurgitated bits. Read the rest of this entry »

Nature Table for December

Thanksgiving Snowstorm Shakes Out a Unique Blend for December’s Nature Table

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.

Winter here in West County came early this year, blanketing the ground with a pile of heavy, wet snow and pulling down anything and everything willing to bend. The woods, roadsides, and backyards of our area are littered with tree debris, and once-sturdy trunks now stand like wounded warriors, their bright, fleshy interiors bared for all to see after the loss of a limb (or two or three). Our own beloved crabapple, which grows its roots just outside the classroom windows, has lost nearly a third of its beautiful feeder-baring limbs.

The early snow and subsequent rain and melting has seemed to confuse us slightly, and this month’s nature table reflects the lack of seasonal connectedness that we’ve experienced. We prepared ourselves for winter and faced its snow and frigid temperatures, only to find that once we’d mastered the boots-and-snowpants routine, it was warm enough again to brave the blacktop in sneakers. Similarly, our nature table contains bits of evergreen as reminders that soon, they’ll truly be the only green that we see, while out the window, a mix of brown and green grass mocks our dedication to its demise.  Read the rest of this entry »

Nature Table for November

November’s Nature Table is Filled with Beginnings and Endings

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.

It’s dark outside these days, and the hills all seem a little less tall now that they’re devoid of the leafy fluff that extends their reach a little closer to the clouds. While it may seem that the change in seasons signals to the natural world that it should slow to a stop, there are beginnings amongst all of the ending.

This past week, my classroom hung the first few in a collection of bird feeders outside our windows. We’ve tracked goldfinches, blue jays, nuthatches, chickadees, and some small woodpeckers outside of our window, and the bird journal is quickly filling up with sightings. The buffet of thistle and sunflower seeds has attracted a wide variety of feathered folks, and we’re proud to feed them suet from a local farm. An outdoor snack time afforded us the opportunity to inspect our feeder-holding crabapple, allowing us to discover the many perfectly round holes pecked into its bark. We’re looking forward to continuing to learn how to identify the bird species found locally, and are planning to participate in some feeder-related citizen science this winter. Read the rest of this entry »

Nature Table for October

This Month’s Nature Table Illustrates Rhythm of Nature

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.

The rains have littered the October ground with a crackling sea shed from the maples outside our window. Fall at our West County elementary school is beautiful, as it turns out, and warmer than we expected. Stories about the chill of fall air sit on the shelf, waiting for the cooler mornings to last all day long and provide the proper climate-context for their telling. Even our wardrobes are confused, and small bodies alternate constantly between winter coats and t-shirts as the temperature bobs up and down. Our classroom “pets,” a collection of pond snails, move about their bowl at approximately the pace that fall has arrived at this year, and they devour green leaves at about the same rate that those outside our window have changed. Our caterpillar has come and gone, his quick chrysalis-ed exit to an outdoor overwintering suspected to have been the result of a few days’ worth of boredom in our room. Read the rest of this entry »

Nature Table for September

A Transition Between Seasons Brings a Colorful Table

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.

September has brought a nature table filled by the hands of young amateur scientists. As we work to build our new classroom community together, we’re also learning how to look at the world around us. Writing lessons take us outside with clipboards, ready to write about the things that we find. Science sends us on a hunt for specific items, though we’re easily side-tracked by crickets and butterflies. Math surveys are centered around favorite local animals, and whether or not we go hunting with our families. Outside games disintegrate into a group effort to free apples from trees using sticks…

Lucky for all of us, fall’s graceful appearance comes on slow, allowing us to soak it in. Our collecting so far has been filled with excitement over the very, very first signs that the seasons are beginning to change. Sumac – plentiful ’round these West County parts – has started to turn a little bit, and golden rod is blooming with glory. Both of these have been major players in our early fall table-scape, reminding us of the overlap of summer and fall. The half-eaten apples we’ve found (and have watched quickly brown) can only be the leftovers of a feasting animal, though the students don’t seem to be inclined to believe its origins.  Read the rest of this entry »

Nature Table for August

Taking the Table on the Road Reveals Diverse Collection

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.

It’s no secret – the tail end of summer is fast approaching. The nights are cooler, the air is drier, and the natural wonders of fall are preparing to emerge. The recent rainfall is providing the perfect growing conditions for the first mushrooms of the season, and we’re greedily gobbling up the very last of the year’s blueberry harvest. While summer’s end can be bittersweet (and often times jam-packed with last-minute adventures), it’s also filled with natural treasures – summer’s final gems continue to slowly emerge throughout the month while signs of fall begin to appear, making for a simultaneous beginning and end.

Summer’s travels have made for a collection filled with items found locally, as well as items found in slightly more far-flung destinations. Alongside the Massachusetts forest’s wealth of galls, nests, and twigs are treasures from the desert and ocean – a crab’s shell from Maine sits alongside invasive zebra mussels from Nevada’s man-made Lake Mead and a delicate butterfly collected from a desert trail in the mountains from which the Colorado River flows.  Read the rest of this entry »

Nature Table for July

Rivers & lakes dispense gifts for July

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.

When the air is thick and muggy and temperatures stretch beyond the thermometer’s eighty degree marker, we head to the river. Though the river is a major feature in our landscape no matter the season, the hot days of midsummer compel us to develop a much more intimate relationship with the ripples and rapids than we’ve upheld throughout the rest of the year. Our far-away glances and detached musings about river-bottom happenings slip silently into the current, transforming as they cool into true knowing – our feet dig deep into the sandy river bed, our hands feel the rocks’ soft surfaces, and our veins pulse a little cooler, a river in miniature inside of ourselves.

July is indisputably a time for swimming, a time when we direct all of our attention to eradicating our skin of prickly, sticky sweat, a time to submerge ourselves with abandon into the dark water that rushes down from the hills. In the summertime, we experience our landscape much differently than we do any other time of year – and not just because it’s full of life. Warm weather grants us the opportunity to explore wet places without protection – bare feet, bare arms, bare bellies. Read the rest of this entry »

Nature Table for June

“June Is Bustin’ Out All Over”

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.

Our recent weather is unmistakably that of early June – thunderstorms have filled our small West County valley with thick, muggy air and heavy, low-hanging fog that hides the tops of hills. The landscape is so green we have to squint sometimes, and the darkest bits of nature are lost amongst all of the light. It’s obvious that June is going to be good to us – wild strawberries are starting to bloom, the summer’s first mushrooms are starting to pop up, our school garden is fully planted, and the frogs have been plentiful and easy to catch. June’s nature table will be our last of the school year, but not my last for the summer. I’ll continue to collect items all summer long, saving, storing, and preserving what I can to share with my fellow nature enthusiasts in the fall. Read the rest of this entry »

Nature Table for May

Springtime has definitely come to the Hilltowns!

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 yet to consistently offer warmer temperatures and sunny days, springtime has definitely come to the Hilltowns. With the newly exposed muddy landscape have also come choruses of evening peepers, clumps of gelatinous frog and salamander eggs, the rush of moving water, and discoveries of newly-exposed nature treasures of all kinds. It seems like every single day brings discoveries of everything from feathers and scat to soda cans and rotting 2×4’s.

Inside my classroom, these outdoor treats have inspired a fuller-than-ever nature table. This month’s table has filled not only its usual tray, but much of the surrounding counter space with items discovered and collected mainly by the students themselves. And what variety! We’ve come a long way from the branch-filled tables of the winter months. We have seeds that are sprouting roots, branches that are sprouting leaves, and feather and quills that have come to us because a creature lost its life. Some of the items are so surprisingly vibrant (blue and yellow feathers, for example) that students have accused me of dying them, while others are so unexpected (porcupine quills) that students can’t even guess what they might be. This month, learning what we have and why it’s there has been more engaging than ever before.  What would you find on a nature table in May…

Nature Table for March

Nature Table for March

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.

As late winter and very early spring begin to overlap here in the Hilltowns, the landscape begins to change. Snowy banks and icy walkways are melting into gigantic muddy puddles all over town, and the trees are filled with the joyful cries of birds who’ve returned to perch amongst the tiniest of early leaf buds. This month’s nature table in my classroom reflects all of this: the lengthening of days and the coming of warmer weather, the sudden influx of feathered friends, the buds that are beginning to lengthen on branch tips, and the very few bits of green found amongst a sea of still-sleepy brown.

In addition to objects that reflect the changes taking place outside, the children in my class have added some items to the table that pair with some of the late winter activities we’ve been doing. We have tapped a single maple tree – old school style, with a metal spout and bucket – so our table includes new buds and last year’s leaves from our tree. We’ve also spent an awful lot of time feeding and conversing with the birds in the schoolyard, so we added a feather that we found in the woods, the bird call we’ve been summoning them with, and a homemade cardboard bird feeder that a squirrel took a big bite out of.

What would you find on a nature table in March…

Nature Table for February

Every month, Hilltown Families will feature 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.

What would you find on a nature table in February…

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