Nature-Based Learning: Spring Chorus of Frogs & Toads

On the heels of a New England winter, spring in Western MA can be very engaging to the senses. This week, take inventory through your senses and notice what’s “speaking” to you.

As you move through the final month of spring, notice what you observe through your senses and how your observations might change and evolve. Our sense of place is interwoven with the seasons and our five senses, deepening our connection to place through seasonal changes. Embedded within this awareness are self-directed learning opportunities that are sparked by curiosity and supported by community-based resources.

WHAT DO YOU HEAR? Native species are a community-based resource that can deliver lessons through our senses. Take, for instance, deep listening to the frogs and toads native to Western MA. Have you ever noticed how their chorus changes through the season? How they are quiet on some evenings and very noisy on others? Pay attention to their chorus (or lack of) and let it guide your learning! It’s a great way to support interests and education in herpetology, biology, and ecology. Start by learning the calls of different native frogs in your region. This video demonstrates how their chorus blends and changes over five months (in just 22 seconds!).

GET CURIOUS: Once you are able to identify the different calls of the frogs and toads in your area, see if you can single out their contribution to an evening spring/summer soundscape. If you find yourself wondering why you hear them one evening, and not the next, get curious and look for the answers. Maybe their mating season has ended? Is the weather a factor? Are they loud or quiet before or after rain? What’s the high and low temperature for that day? These questions and the search for the answers guide learning while putting into practice the process of self-directed education, encouraging curiosity, and delivering the rewards of following your interests.


  • Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library has audio recordings of different species to support your learning of different calls.
  • AmphibiaWeb provides information on amphibian declines, natural history, conservation, and taxonomy.

Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield. Video credit: Cable Natural History Museum

Nature-Based Learning with Curly Willow on the Westfield River. Nestled in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains on the east branch of the Westfield River, Curly Willow on the Westfield is an emerging space for the passionately curious. A convergence of mindfulness and community-based education. Member, Community-Based Education Network™.

FrogWatch Citizen Science Opportunity for All Ages

Learn More About Amphibians While Helping Larger Efforts In Identifying Species

FrogWatch USA is a citizen science program that provides people of all ages with the opportunity to learn about amphibians and help with conservation efforts. Every year from February through August, volunteers collect data on the calls of frogs and toads. This data is then used to identify the species, gain information on their populations, and is used directly in conservation work.

On Friday, February 6, from 6:30pm-9pm, older students and adults can join the Hitchcock Center for the Environment and Mass Audubon for a FrogWatch USA citizen science training session at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary (127 Combs Road, Easthampton, MA). At this program, adults and older students can learn about our native frog and toad species and how to identify them, as well as how they can participate in FrogWatch USA.

Although this particular program is geared towards adults, it is a great chance for parents and caregivers to learn about the citizen science project so they can teach their kids about it – this is not only a great chance for students to become involved in a national citizen science project, but it’s also a wonderful opportunity for families to learn and work together in nature. Call the Hitchcock Center at 413-256-6006 to register. (>$)

Wonder how frogs survive the winter and don’t freeze to death?  Check out this article in Scientific American.

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…

Lifecycle Studies: Hatching Frog Eggs

Lifecycle Studies: Hatching Frog Eggs

Here in western Massachusetts, one of Mother Nature’s first ways of letting us know that spring has arrived is the chorus that comes during the evening. Peepers and wood frogs add natural music to the wet, muddy, spring landscape, letting everyone and everything within earshot know that winter is finally over. And soon after the evenings get noisy, amphibians get busy! Not long after emerging, ponds and vernal pools become home to hundreds of eggs.

Springtime outdoor exploration with kids is sure to lead to discoveries of egg masses if you live near still or slow-moving water. There’s a lot to be learned just from examining the egg masses themselves, but there’s even more to be learned by watching the eggs hatch, develop, and grow from a gelatinous cluster into full-sized frogs! Families can schedule regular visits to a pond or vernal pool to watch these future-frogs grow, but it’s much easier to see the small daily changes that occur if the eggs are right inside your home or classroom.

Before bringing home an egg mass, do some research and learn to identify the egg masses you’ve found. Read the rest of this entry »

“Frogs: A Chorus of Colors” Exhibit Comes to Springfield

Frogs: A Chorus of Colors
Springfield Museums
January 21st – May 13th, 2012

Borneo Eared Frog featured in "Frogs: A Chorus of Colors." (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The Springfield Museums will be hosting the exhibit, “Frogs: A Chorus of Colors,” January 21st through May 13th, 2012.  This is a new exhibit of live frogs that teaches visitors about the many different types of frogs found around the world and the habitats in which they can be found.  The exhibit holds fifteen different habitats filled with plants, waterfalls, rocks, ledges, etc., each of which is filled with frogs and toads.  Museum visitors can learn to identify frogs by reading about specimens, watching videos of frogs, and listening to recordings of frog calls.  Kids can even learn why each frog looks the way that it does by comparing the frog’s size and coloring to the habitat in which it can be found.

Opening Day: Saturday, January 21st from 10am-5pm. The exhibit’s opening day features exciting events including live animal demonstrations from 11am-12:45pm and a puppet performance of “The Frog Prince” at 1pm.

A visit to the new exhibit is a great opportunity to learn about amphibians that live outside of your backyard!  To learn more, call the Springfield Museums at 800-625-7738 or visit

To find out more about this exhibit, read our review from the summer of 2009 when it came to the Berkshire Museum: Frogs Educate and Fascinate Museum Goers in Pittsfield, MA.

Frogs Educate and Fascinate Museum Goers in Pittsfield, MA

Frogs: A Chorus of Color at the Berkshire Museum

Waxy Monkey Frog

Waxy Monkey Frog - South American monkey frogs climb through trees with grasping feet. The waxy monkey frog is unusual in its preference for hot, dry conditions. By recycling water in its kidneys, the frog is able to avoid expelling precious moisture in the form of urine. It also gives itself a rubdown with a waxy secretion to limit water loss through the skin. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

This week we went to the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA. Following a wonderful production of Wind in the Willows by Berkshire Theater Festival in their auditorium, we went upstairs to check-out their exhibit, Frogs: A Chorus of Color.

Wow! This is an impressive show that is both educational and visually stunning. Through a dazzling display of photos, frog colors and textures, audible enhancements with an array of calls from different frog species, visitors explore a wide variety of living frogs from all over the world. The exhibit contains 15 different varieties of live frogs, all in self-contained custom habitats that are precisely replicated and include rock ledges, live plants, and waterfalls for the frogs to thrive in.

My seven year old daughter was very interested to see large live frogs, like the African and American Bullfrogs, that are so big they include birds and mice in their diets. And the tiny, cute yellow Poison Dart Frog that has enough poison to kill 10 people!

Studying Frogs

Stunning backlit graphic panels with colorful images of frogs cover the walls, and interactive components invite visitors to activate recorded frog calls, view videos of frogs jumping, swimming or gliding from dizzying heights, spin a zoetrope, and test new-found frog knowledge on subjects from the most basic to the totally bizarre, such as the difference between a toad and a frog. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The museum offers a scavenger hunt as part of the exhibit with their Frog Finder kit that asks questions like, “How do Waxy Monkey Frogs prevent water loss during hot dry weather?,” and “How many Mossy Frog were you able to find in the exhibit?” I found this really compelled kids to study each station and to come away with a full educational experience, learning about a frogs basic biology, ecology and lifecycles.

Kids went from station to station, looking for answers to their Frog Finder Sheets as the Waxy Monkey Frogs hung on branches like little green amphibious looking primates, and the bizarre lichen looking Vietnamese Mossy Frog offered challenges for students to find them in their mossy habitats.

When we left we stopped by the Pittsfield Library to check out books on frogs to read when we got home. This show is truly inspiring to all who enjoy natural history.  The show runs through November 1st, 2009.

To see more photos from our visit to the Berkshire Museum, click here.

Salamander Crossing Guards & Vernal Pools

2008 Annual Amphibian Migration
By HF Contributing Writer, Sheri Rosenblum

After a winter of indoor activities, this is a great time of year to get outside and explore the local woods, especially if you are interested in the lives of amphibians. The snow is melting and vernal pools are appearing all over the Hilltowns. Frogs and salamanders are still in the woods, thawing out from their winter spent frozen under the snow. They are waiting for the first warm, rainy night of Spring to tell them it’s time to move to their breeding habitat, the vernal pools. Unfortunately, this first activity of Spring often requires crossing roads where most drivers are completely unaware they even exist. This recipe for disaster results in millions of deaths every year, with so many of them completely preventable. To follow is a look at what vernal pools are and how your family can help participate in protecting the amphibians that migrate from the every year.


A vernal pool is body of water found in upland hardwood forests in places that were previously glaciated (Ten thousand years ago these Hilltowns were covered up to 2 miles deep in ice!). In summer and fall, vernal pools appear simply as depressions in the forest floor, some as diffrent sized puddle, others as large as a couple of acres. But in the late winter, due to snow melt, spring rains and a high water table beneath them, they fill up like ponds and maintain their water generally into summer. The key feature about their formation is that since they are not associated with any running water system and because they dry out periodically, they cannot support fish. Hence, they have become a safe habitat for a variety of wildlife species that rely on these pools for breeding. Read the rest of this entry »

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