Nature Table for July

Nature Table for July

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.

Things are dry this summer, and the landscape shows it. Leaves are droopy, moss is crispy, and the water lines on river rocks are alarmingly high above the current flow. Despite the drought’s impact on our surroundings, it makes rivers especially accessible for exploration. Even the smallest of adventurers can navigate through knee-deep pools and miniature falls – and that’s exactly what we’ve been up to. We’ve rambled up and down rivers and streams, clambering over rocks and splashing in pools, all in search of meaningful sensory experiences that will lead us to a deepened understanding of the place in which we live.

Last July, our bug-centric nature table was dictated by similar circumstances: hikes and swims and river rambles amongst the hills of western Massachusetts. Our focus this year has shifted, and we’ve had our eyes on the river since the warm season began. This month’s nature table is once again bug-centric, but is all about the bugs that we’ve found in the water – or rather, the evidence of bugs that we’ve found in the water.

Aquatic invertebrates are fascinating and plentiful around here, but they’re also hard to see in the field. They’re tiny and well-camouflaged, making them hard to see and hard to catch without an arsenal of gear into the river with us. So, rather than learning about aquatic invertebrates through observation of living creatures, we’re learning about them by finding evidence of their existence. The exoskeletons of stoneflies, dragonflies, and other similar creatures are plentiful upon the dry rocks that peek out of the river, offering up their empty skeletons and wide-open backs as a teaching tool.

Caddisfly homes are easy to spot on the edges of rocks, and when they’re above the current water line we consider the ways in which survival is dependent on specific environmental factors. Dobsonflies have begun to lay their eggs (disguised as something that looks like bird droppings) along the edges of the river, and inspection of the undersides of submerged rocks can reveal tiny, gelatinous clusters of eggs hidden and waiting to hatch.

There’s no question that the river is alive, and we’re learning to look closely in order to find it. Aquatic invertebrate treasures for this month include:

  • stonefly exoskeletons
  • dragonfly exoskeletons
  • dragonfly wings
  • caddisfly homes (be sure nobody’s home before collecting!)
  • dobsonfly exoskeletons
  • mayfly carcasses

Some books to bolster our studies include:

[Photo credit: (cc) Sally Crossthwaite]

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 serves on the Mary Lyon Foundation Board of Directors.




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