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. 

While we couldn’t all have traveled to both the desert and the ocean last month, it’s only logical that a late summer nature table reflect summertime treks away from home. While items collected elsewhere may not directly reflect the local environment and won’t necessarily draw children closer to their immediate environment, they’ll serve as reminders of the discoveries made in a new and interesting place, helping them to remain connected to places visited. Additionally, nature treasures from trips away from home create the opportunity to compare and contrast – how are the things from away like and unlike the things you’ve found in your backyard? How was the place you explored like (and unlike) the place in which you live? And what might be the local equivalent of the items that you brought back with you?

Oh, and of course – summer’s least appetizing yet entirely fascinating phenomenon: mold. Muggy weather in late summer creates an environment that’s not only good for mushrooms – it’s great for mold that loves to feast upon foods left out in the open. Saving some in a jar and inspecting with a hand lens can make for some great observations.

This month’s nature table collection is made up of:

  • bird’s nest
  • moldy fruit
  • crab shell
  • zebra mussel shells
  • orange sulphur butterfly
  • growing collection of insect galls
  • lion’s mane mushroom
  • lichen-covered twigs

Explore these topics further with the following titles:

Robin Morgan Huntley, Intern
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 in Shelburne Falls, MA.

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