Hilltown Families


Fall in Western Mass is when nature literally takes center stage; a destination visitors outside the area flock to because of the gorgeous dynamism of the season. The trees and their changing foliage are great connectors for kids (in a sense they connect to themselves!) to the outdoors and their sense of place. In this change lies a wonderful community-based educational opportunities tied to art and science. Read on to see how you can get your kid hooked on fall by collecting, creating and learning in their own backyards!

Don’t let the change of seasons happen without engaging your kids/students with the new exterior design that Mother Nature provides! Collectig leaves, creating land art and using them in arts & crafts can alert children to their surrounding natural environment while stimulating self directed learning! Leaf collecting also provides opportunity for some math, science, and social studies learning, too…

As you gaze into the center of a flower, did you know that you’re regarding an incredible example of mathematical reasoning? Nature’s patterns, as it happens, are deeply rooted in the Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Ratio. It’s the ultimate in a marriage between the aesthetic beauty of nature, and its mathematical base that makes it make sense.

Read on to discover what a learning opportunity this is for the family to share! There are many resources on-line, in your community, and of course in your backyard to explore these theories.

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.

Learning Landscape for April: Spring’s Big Night & Vernal Pool Habitat The April Landscape April is a month of massive transition here in New England. March’s maple sugaring season often runs into the month’s earliest days, while the tail end of April is filled with new life and much green. Spring emerges on its own time, and its arrival varies from year to year. Regardless, the pattern of melting, emergence, and growth… Read More

Whether the winter has been harsh or mild, late winter is the toughest time of year for wildlife to find food. Knowing a few easy-to-spot and heavily relied on food sources in your local landscape can help to illuminate the habits of local creatures, as they’ll be frequenting their most reliable late winter food sources this time of year!

Learn more and find the downloadable education resource in this month’s Learning Landscape!

While projecting our human view of nature onto the natural world makes it seem dead and lifeless, it’s actually full of life that’s well-adapted to winter’s ways. By learning basic animal tracking, even the most amateur naturalists can begin to learn about the ways of creatures who are active during the wintertime. This month’s guide highlights the tracks and habits of small mammals, deer, and birds.

While the suddenly-bleak landscape of December may not seem like an ideal context in which to begin to connect more deeply with nature, it truly is! The snowy backdrop brings to light some of the natural world’s most everyday occurrences that go unnoticed in a landscape filled with lush color and detail. The new snowy landscape provides ample opportunity to begin to search for and notice bark, lichen, hardy mushrooms, tracks, scat, and middens!

While we’ve been aware that the seasons were changing, now that the leaves have mostly fallen, the brown and barren landscape has come as a bit of a shock. And what exactly happened to all of the green, anyway? This month, before the dead and brown is covered with snow, explore your landscape to find out what’s really, truly dead and what is hardy and still kicking. Then, experiment with still-live plants to see the effects of cold temperatures on plant cells for yourself.

What was intended as a study of fall food and the culture surrounding it has turned into the creation of a small zoo of squashy creatures. Caterpillars make for a perfect September study, as they’re easy to spot, even easier to keep, and on the verge of a fascinating transformation!

Nature Table for August August is heavy in the air. Slightly shortened days, daytime humidity, and a slight evening chill are the hallmark (and ominous) signs of a summer that has begun to give way to fall. As always, we’re attuned to the changes happening in the natural world around us, yet somehow our emotional response to the change in seasons can cloud our ability to notice the natural phenomena nearby. Rather… Read More

Our river ecosystems are about more than just water – they about thousands of species of plants and animals, fascinating natural history, and the connections between humans and their surroundings. By utilizing resources made available by a handful of local community-based organizations, families can learn about and connect with our local landscape.

In the sea of green that our surroundings have become, plants are nearly indistinguishable from one another. Leaves blend with needles blend with grass, and so our war on weeds begins. To young naturalists, however, weeds are a world unexplored. Use the diversity of common weeds to spark learning about plant life this month!

When spring rain makes the earth soggy but puts rivers and streams off-limits, sink your boots into the muck of a pond’s edge! This month’s nature table tadpole habitat lends itself to explorations of the multi-faceted pond habitats that serve as incubators for local amphibian species.

Feeling impatient for leaves and blossoms? Bring some branches inside and force buds to hasten your local leaf out. A nature table of forced buds is not only beautiful, but provides a fascinating look at the process of leaf and blossom growth.

It seems like maple is visible all over the place this time of year, but the trees themselves remain hidden to the untrained eye without their summer leaves. Learn to identifying sugar maples during the off-season for growing (but on-season for tapping) by looking closely at leaf buds and bark, and create your own March nature table filled with leaf buds of all kinds.

This month, our nature table focuses on an element of the fall season that, despite its usefulness in preparing families for winter, has waned significantly in popularity over the course of the past two generations: deer hunting.

Focused on the search for patterns in nature, this month’s nature table encourages families to consider their place in the local landscape – and the universe. From twigs to entire watersheds, nature’s patterns share a common theme; by recognizing this pattern, families can place themselves within these patterns and gain a deeper awareness of the interconnectedness of the world.

As you gaze into the center of a flower, did you know that you’re regarding an incredible example of mathematical reasoning? Nature’s patterns, as it happens, are deeply rooted in the Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Ratio. It’s the ultimate in a marriage between the aesthetic beauty of nature, and its mathematical base that makes it make sense. Read on to discover what a learning opportunity this is for the family to share! There are many resources on-line, in your community, and of course in your backyard to explore these theories.

Read more and see great videos in our post, Fibonacci Sequence & Golden Ratio Drive Nature Based Education.

Summer is a great time to get outdoors, and explore deep into the woods. Guided nature walks, and self-directed exploration of nature, can connect to many other interests. Nature centers are an essential resource for outdoor learning. For a list of Western Mass nature centers and their offerings, read our post, Local Nature Centers Connect Families to Nature Through Interpretive Programs. The following upcoming events use a love of nature as a jumping off point to encourage creative free play, environmental stewardship, and even art studies.

Nature Table for July is crawling out of its skin! Found in and around the river, evidence of aquatic invertebrates is everywhere. From exoskeletons abandoned by suddenly-winged creatures to eggs disguised as bird droppings, this month’s collection speaks to the fascinating and tiny creatures that live at the bottom of the river.

Hilltown Families and Mass Appeal (a weekday, hour-long lifestyle program on NBC) have teamed up to offer a live monthly segment on WWLP 22News! Each month, Hilltown Families’ Founder & Executive Director, Sienna Wildfield, joins Mass Appeal hosts to talk about ways to engage in your community while supporting the interests and education of your children (and yourselves!).

This monthly segment continued on Monday, June 20, 2016. This month Sienna and Lauren talked about intergenerational ways to engage in natural resources to support interests and education, including River Walks and Nature Centers!

Scattered throughout western Massachusetts, local nature centers offer valuable educational programming that bridges the gap between self-directed exploration and formal learning. Catering to naturalists of all ages, nature centers host year-round opportunities for nature-based learning.

It’s not truly seasonal, but lichen makes a fascinating nature collection! Able to survive in outer space, go dormant in order to wait for favorable growing conditions, and support microscopic life, lichen is amazing. It’s even an indicator of air quality! Learn some local lichens and make your own lichen-y June nature table.

As we near the end of winter (did it ever begin?), our creature neighbors start to emerge more and more frequently. Exploring the meaning of “hibernation” and the habits of local mammals can support a deeper understanding of these creatures’ winter habits!

Since we’re experiencing such a mild winter this year, birds are having a field day with the multitude of food sources that remain available. From feeders to berry bushes, feather friends are everywhere – and by learning what each creature’s favorite foods are, families can use a combination of feeding and close observation to learn about bird life in winter.

Fall is a time for seeds! As the landscape becomes more and more bare, seeds of all kinds begin to turn up all around us. Waiting for a wind to blow them away or known them to the ground, these seeds make perfect subjects to study.

Search for signs of fall! This month in “What to Play? Play Ideas for Family & Community,” Carrie shares her list of Autumn treasures she and her daughter search for outside while encouraging families to do the same. Then take your treasures and create nature based art with what you find… both indoors and out!

This month, exploration of the landscape turns up some items not subject to seasonal change. In considering the impact that humans have on a landscape, we can use the changing seasons to spark environmentally responsible behaviors.

With the start of school comes the making of a new community and the end of immersive nature-based learning. However, with the sharing of treasures and the sharing of stories, the glory of the natural world lives on and inspires new curiosity.

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