Nature Table for September

Telling Stories 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.

There are signs all around us that the end of summer is nigh – the rivers are running lower than ever, forest mushrooms are out in a rainbow of round-capped glory, the evenings darken earlier, apples are dropping of their own volition from branches, and our glowing sun-tanned bodies have returned to the concrete confines of a place of a different kind of learning. It is with summer’s end that our experiential nature-based learning begins to wane, but rather than putting our summer adventures behind us, we share them wholeheartedly, allowing connections to be built between the deep biotic immersion of summertime and the more structured learning we experience once the leaves turn.

This month’s nature table is a collection of objects intended to inspire curiosity, but also curated specially for the purpose of sharing stories. Our collection has migrated from our own tabletops to a space where it can be enjoyed by our entire community, and the curious summertime finds it holds inspire everything from cries of excitement about skull recognition to groans of frustration when it’s discovered that what looks like a duck’s bill doesn’t even belong to a bird. More than this, though, this month’s collection inspires the sharing of tales from summer and beyond – tales inspired by objects, memories whose recollection is dependent upon the recognition of the shape of a shell, the color of a feather, or the patterns in a rock’s layers. 

In telling the stories of nature, we are able to weave our natural surroundings through our oral autobiographies – adding a sense of place to the sharing of self. As fall is a time when we’re facilitating a new kind of community together, we have a distinct need for both of these things. We share who we are, and we share where we are – and the intersection of these two things is different for each of us. Our stories and our treasures highlight unexpected connections between us, and they challenge each of us to consider our relationship with our surroundings. Not only does the telling of stories allow us to recognize our expertise, it makes us aware of the things that we don’t yet know.

And so begins an academic year filled with treasure hunting in nature – the coming months will reveal collections the contents of which will continue to tell stories about us, both as individuals and as a group.

Our September nature table includes:

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  • – skulls of heron, pike, cow, and porcupine
  • – antique milk glass jar
  • – sea sponge
  • – Petoskey stones
  • – insect galls
  • – locust beans
  • – turkey feather

Some books to encourage us to hunt treasures and tell stories are:

How to Keep a Naturalist’s Notebook by Susan Leigh Tomlinson

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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