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.

In addition to our bird studies, we’ve continued to learn about mushrooms of all kinds. An iridescent orange mushroom captured our interest this week, fascinating us all with its yellow spores. We also learned about chestnut trees, and the strict rules that dictate how and why their seeds can be obtained. A treasure discovered at a booth at the Ashfield Fall Festival, the chestnut’s spiny outside skin is surprisingly velvety inside. Though we’ve struggled to conceptualize the fact that access to natural genetic material can be controlled, learning about the chestnut tree’s history together has kept us curious for a few weeks.

With such a variety of items dotting our table, we’ve been constantly improving our skills in using field guides. Navigating through pages of shape-based categorizations and visual organizations has taught us how to look for certain characteristics in our treasures, and reading the descriptions of species has allowed us to practice using context in order to understand new vocabulary.

The things we’ve worked on identified this month (and some that we haven’t had to research) include:

  • Wild Cucumbers
  • Mint
  • Ginkgo Leaves
  • Wool (from Winterberry Farm’s sheep shearing)
  • Chestnut Pods
  • Amanita Flavoconia Cap
  • Bird Seed
  • Feathers
  • Local Apple

Some books to supplement learning about these items include:

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.

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