Reborn! Nature Table for May

Spring is Here & New Life is Welcomed

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.

Spring has arrived here in West Franklin County quite suddenly. Just as the very last traces of the most stubborn and well-frozen snowbank disappeared, so came 80-degree days, red faces, and an almost instantaneous burst of light green just about everywhere. We somehow managed to entirely bypass mud season this year, and have not had to exercise patience in waiting for the landscape to dry so as to easily accommodate our adventures. The brown grass is about to give way to a surge of new squashy green stuff, and newly-hatched leaves adorn the twig-ends of each and every deciduous branch that the eye can see. Indoors, our collecting follows this common thread of hatching, and new life is beginning right before our very eyes. The landscape is awake, and so are the creatures. And when the creatures have awakened, they reproduce as if their lives depend on it.

Our focus this month lies not in collecting natural treasures, but in observing them. After feeding the birds outside our window all winter long, we’re eager to learn how to spot new nests and to (perhaps) see them fill up with eggs. Indoors, our pond snail habitat has recently revealed four clutches of eggs – and it’s certainly possible that a few more are well-hidden from our eyes. We’ve also acquired a small community of tadpoles, who made their timely appearance just days ago and are slowly growing gills and becoming accustomed to three meals a day of frozen lettuce leaves. Soon, we’ll be able to watch the development of a handful of chicken and guinea hen eggs as well. We’re also waiting for a butterfly to emerge from a chrysalis formed last fall, which, while not an egg, speaks to a similar process.

Eggs make a fantastic topic for study because they’re full of mystery. Even species who lay translucent eggs – like our snails and frogs – leave no clue as to what their round-ish masses will eventually reveal. To the untrained eye, even an egg whose inside is clearly visible looks nothing like a living thing in its earliest days. The tiny black dots of frogs’ eggs and small, silvery beads of snails’ eggs bear no resemblance to the beings they will eventually become, and for those of us who lack a deep scientific understanding of why exactly this happens, the slow transformation of egg to adult is utterly fascinating. Watching limbs, feathers, scales, fins, and whatever else develops on young egg-laying creatures’ bodies is truly magical.

This month’s collection is scattered throughout our classroom, but includes:

  • tank of frog eggs and tadpoles
  • tank of snails and eggs
  • incubator with guinea hen and chicken eggs
  • swallowtail chrysalis
  • three birds’ nests
  • a collection of feathers

Some books that pair nicely with studies of eggs are:

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 and and serves on the Mary Lyon Foundation Board of Directors.

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