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.

Fall’s stunted (yet colorful) growth is reflected in our collection which has, as a result, changed yet still remained quite similar to the previous month’s. We’ve continued to find lots of different seed-bearing pods, as well as a healthy heap of half-green, half-brown leaves of all shapes and sizes. Clippings from hardy flowering plants have trickled in from home gardens, and mushrooms of all kinds remain readily available on the school grounds and elsewhere. But it’s no problem – the slow pace that the changes around us have been keeping up is teaching us the rhythm of nature. Change is always a slow process in nature, whether or not temperatures are unseasonably warm, and it’s an important lesson for us to learn. Patience and close observation will allow us to become more closely acquainted with our surroundings, and will help us to see exactly the moment when all of the leaves have finally turned or when the grass has finally ceased to need mowing. The need to look closely is an important one, for it teaches us the specifics of things that might otherwise seem to have fuzzy edges. 

And speaking of looking closely, we’ve certainly been making some great observations! A multi-day mushroom observation surprised us all by providing us with the opportunity to see veils break, gills appear, and spores be distributed – all within a matter of a few days, and thanks to the help of a mist bottle and refrigeration. We drew mushrooms, we poked mushrooms, we took notes about mushrooms and, most importantly, we wondered things about mushrooms. The things that we wondered will guide us towards some new discoveries – once we’ve collected a new stash.

This month’s nature table collection includes:

  • over-ripe cucumber
  • “lucky” river stones
  • crabapples
  • pottery pieces from the river
  • burrs
  • milkweed pod
  • shelf mushroom of epic proportions (unidentified)
  • wasp’s nest
  • endless collection of walnuts, acorns, and chestnuts

For further study, we’ve looked to the pages of:

Robin Morgan Huntley, Community-Based Education Correspondent

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 and teaches 5th grade in the Hilltowns of Western MA. importance of connecting public schools with their surrounding communities, especially in rural areas. Robin lives in Shelburne Falls, MA.

1 Comment

  1. Dr. Jose-Antonio Alvarado said,

    November 6, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    Congratulations! We need more Hilltown examples all over the Americas!

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