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. 

Robin - Nature Table

The things we’ve learned about so far include:

  • a collection of feathers of varied shapes, sizes, and colors
  • porcupine quills
  • small stones
  • a chunk of tail fur (species unknown!)
  • pussywillow cuttings
  • a variety of seeds (acorns, alder cones, chestnuts)
  • two kinds of mushrooms
  • stonefly larvae
  • frog eggs and tadpoles

Since springtime means growth and change, many of the items on this month’s Nature Table have continued to grow and change even after we brought them indoors. A small patch of Witch’s Butter has doubled in size during the past few weeks, and our pussywillow cuttings have pushed out their furry blooms (which a student described as “bunny toes”), dropped yellow pollen all over the place, sprouted small green leaves, and grown a mess of bright white roots. Most exciting of all is the process of hatching frog eggs which have, in a matter of only a few days, grown tiny tails and exited their eggs. Slowly but surely, they’ll grow and change right before our very eyes. What a beautiful and fascinating learning experience for all of us!

Some of this month’s book bin titles include:

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