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The number Pink Lady’s Slipper orchids (sp. Cypripedium acaule) popping up in the NE woodlands this season is amazing! This plant can live up to 25+ years but not produce its first bloom for nearly a decade! So, if we’re seeing a ton of blossoms this summer, what was going on ten years ago? Let native species lead your learning, and mast bloom steer your inquiry! With the Pink Lady’s Slipper as a point of entry, support an interest in Native American studies, U.S. history, ethnobotany, poetry, ecology, phenology, ecology, endangered plants, and mythology. Read more in our post, Nature-Based Learning: Learning through the Lens of the Wild Orchid.

Now that we have turned the corner from May to June, notice the changes through your senses. Your senses can tell you what time of the year it is without even looking at a calendar. Just the sound the trees make as their young green leaves tussle together in the treetops when it’s breezy before a rainstorm is enough to signal the time of year. The next time there’s a wind, notice the sound of the trees. How does the sound differ from the winter months when the leaves are on the ground, or in the autumn when they are crisp and turning colors? Layer upon this dance between wind and leaves the changing soundscape of the birds, insects, and frogs, and you can observe what time of the year it is merely through sound. Invite your sense of smell to the table and the conversation deepens, accessing memories through the scent of blossoms, dirt, and summer rains.

On the heels of a New England winter, spring in Western MA can be very engaging to the senses. This week, take inventory through your senses and notice what’s “speaking” to you.

As you move through the final month of spring, notice what you observe through your senses and how your observations might change and evolve. Our sense of place is interwoven with the seasons and our five senses, deepening our connection to place through seasonal changes. Embedded within this awareness are self-directed learning opportunities that are sparked by curiosity and supported by community-based resources.

WHAT DO YOU HEAR? Native species are a community-based resource that can deliver lessons through our senses. Take, for instance, deep listening to the frogs and toads native to Western MA. Have you ever noticed how their chorus changes through the season? How they are quiet on some evenings and very noisy on others? Pay attention to their chorus (or lack of) and let it guide your learning! It’s a great way to support interests and education in herpetology, biology, and ecology. Start by learning the calls of different native frogs in your region. This video demonstrates how their chorus blends and changes over five months (in just 22 seconds!).

In shade gardens across the Hilltowns, Lily-of-the-Valley makes its debut in mid to late May. This delicate, fragrant flower is rich in folklore and goes by many names. Learning through the lens of Lily-of-the-Valley, let the different names of this spring flower start as your guide for learning this week…

It was Albert Einstein, who said, “Look deep, deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” During the spring, as nature bursts into bloom, help deepen your connection to which Einstein hinted by looking towards the emerging blossoms of flowering plants purposefully planted in gardens or self-seeded in the crevices of sidewalks or manicured lawns. Every spring, flower buds emerge and unfold into inviting blossoms, an annual appearance rooted in… Read More

What is it? Where is it?

Allow this free word scramble printable to lead curiosity during April! Support language arts by unscrambling the letters to identify what’s in each picture. In early Spring, look for these treasures in nature throughout the Hilltowns of western Massachusetts and around New England.

Use this printable to encourage local engagement in the natural world by searching for native and invasive species, identifying seeds from different trees, and supporting interests in ornithology, botany, and mycology.

Engaging in the natural world, a community-based educational resource available to everyone, supports a sense of place. Make learning relevant to where you live!

Click here to download.


Hilltown Families Printables is sponsored by Curly Willow on the Westfield River. Nestled in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains on the east branch of the Westfield River, Curly Willow on the Westfield is an emerging space for the passionately curious. A convergence of mindfulness and community-based education. Member, Community-Based Education Network™.

As you gaze at the base of a pine cone, 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. To discover what a learning opportunity this is for the family to share, read our post, “Nature’s Patterns Reveals Mathematical Reasoning.” When outside, look for these patterns in different native species, including sunflowers, pine cones, dragonfly wings, and the eye of a common housefly.

Learning through the lens of our community not only supports interests and education, but it also strengthens a sense of place. This feeling of connection to where you live and the places you visit is vital to creating sustainable and resilient communities. In this TEDx Talk, Supporting Education Through Community Engagement, Hilltown Families Founder, Sienna Wildfield, shares the story of the history and mission of Hilltown Families. During a time when families… Read More

Here is a list of self-guided hikes to do with your family or on your own. To support place-based learning, before you head out, conduct an online search about the natural and human history of some of these community-based educational resources. Bring with you field guides, sketchbooks, cameras, and magnifying glasses and spend the afternoon engaged in self-directed, nature-based learning!

Self-guided hikes are a great way to keep your family active outdoors and engaged in nature! They’re also excellent ways to support learning via community-based educational resources, including land trusts & native species!

Download this free interpretive trail guide Hilltown Families created with the Hilltown Land Trust for the Bradley Sanctuary trail in Williamsburg, MA.

What have you missed over on our Facebook page? Check out some of our top posts from this past week!

Join us on Facebook, and be sure to subscribe to our weekly eNewsletter too: http://visitor.r20.constantcontact.com/d.jsp?llr=exwricdab&p=oi&m=1102808931044&sit=8w7zndteb&f=0383bd7b-6431-490b-85cd-f5c4412d7cf2

Camping is one of the most classic outdoor adventures of childhood, and thanks to the wealth of state parks and forests found locally, there are endless camping adventures to be had in western Massachusetts! From exposing young campers to sleeping outside to allowing children to experience all aspects of the local landscape, camping trips are full of meaningful experiences.

What have you missed over on our Facebook page? Check out some of our top posts from this past week!

Join us on Facebook, and be sure to subscribe to our weekly eNewsletter too: http://visitor.r20.constantcontact.com/d.jsp?llr=exwricdab&p=oi&m=1102808931044&sit=8w7zndteb&f=0383bd7b-6431-490b-85cd-f5c4412d7cf2

What have you missed over on our Facebook page? Check out some of our top posts from this past week!

Join us on Facebook, and be sure to subscribe to our weekly eNewsletter too: http://visitor.r20.constantcontact.com/d.jsp?llr=exwricdab&p=oi&m=1102808931044&sit=8w7zndteb&f=0383bd7b-6431-490b-85cd-f5c4412d7cf2

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, community-based education specialist and Hilltown Families’ Founder, 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, April 29, 2019 with Sienna and Danny talking about seasonal patterns, annual events, and national observations as a resource for supporting education and values through community engagement in May.

What have you missed over on our Facebook page? Check out some of our top posts from this past week!

Join us on Facebook, and be sure to subscribe to our weekly eNewsletter too: http://visitor.r20.constantcontact.com/d.jsp?llr=exwricdab&p=oi&m=1102808931044&sit=8w7zndteb&f=0383bd7b-6431-490b-85cd-f5c4412d7cf2

This monthly segment continued on Monday, March 25, 2019, with Sienna and Ashley talking about migrations and new life; community-based resources and service-based learning opportunities that support interests in the field of phenology, the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life.

On a rainy evening (or two or three) very soon, all over New England, when the snow and ice are almost gone, and the temperature is 40 degrees or more, frogs and salamanders will make their annual spring migration. They wend their way from their upland winter havens to the vernal pools where they hatched to lay their fertilized eggs in the water. Sometimes, however, roads cross these ancient paths, and many of them are killed. The Wendell State Forest Alliance invites families to help our fellow amphibian neighbors avoid this fate by participating as a salamander crossing guard! Here’s how…

As the weather temperatures fluctuate in the late winter and early spring, track the seasonal changes through the lens of local species, agriculture, and native species. This monthly on Mass Appeal, a weekday, hour-long lifestyle program on NBC, Hilltown Families Founder, Sienna Wildfield, and Mass Appeal co-host, Danny New, talking about a few early signs of spring we can look for through the lens of local species, agriculture, and native habitat.

Not only is winter the ideal season for tracking because of the blank canvas that snow provides, the cold temperatures help to open up access to habitats that cannot be explored during the rest of the year. In particular, winter is an excellent time to learn about beaver habitat!

Once ponds have iced over for the season, beaver habitat is easily accessible on foot or with the help of skis or snowshoes. If the ice is safe, go visit your local beaver pond. Find the beavers’ lodge and inspect it up close to see how it’s built. Search for evidence of warmth, like steam or melting snow atop the lodge.

Across the pond, visit the beavers’ dam. Since the dam is holding back water above a river or stream, the ice around the dam is often thin and unsafe for walking on. From a safe distance, examine the dam’s construction and observe the types of trees used and the size of the trunks that were felled.

Don’t be fooled by misconceptions – beavers don’t hibernate during the winter! Be sure to walk around the pond to search for evidence of recent forays into the snowy landscape. In places where the entire water surface has frozen over, beavers may maintain an open hole in the ice for coming and going. They may also chew on young branches, leaving behind the inner twig wood.

Eager to go learn about beavers? Download our free Nature Guide, “Tips for Exploring Beaver Habitat: Lodges, Dams, Caches, and Adaptations,” to learn more about beaver lodges and dams, as well as the food coaches and special adaptations that help them get through the winter!

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.

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new Learning Landscape, which aims to inspire learning along with a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. The hope is to bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. September has brought a nature table filled by the hands of young amateur scientists. As we work to build our… Read More


Every month, Hilltown Families features a new Learning Landscape, which aims to inspire learning along with a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. The hope is to bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. Download this month’s Learning Landscape 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.

The June Landscape

After spring’s landscape revival, June is paradise – leaves and lawns are a thick green, the air is warm, and every single living thing around is thoroughly enjoying being alive. The start of summer is an explosion of life so great that it’s nearly impossible to notice the individual phenomena taking place – it comes in one beautifully orchestrated burst!

Of note in late spring and early summer is the appearance of dandelions. Taraxicum officinale, as its scientifically known, is generally considered a weed. Though not the most incredible of flowers, dandelions are some of the first blooms to dot the landscape once the weather warms, and they provide essential food to pollinators – particularly bees. In fact, intentionally leaving lawns un-mowed to allow dandelions to flourish can be essential to the survival of bee populations.

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

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