Hilltown Families


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

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.

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.

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.

Finally surrendering to the awakening brought on by spring, the local landscape is alive with once-buried treasure during the brief season of brown. Look closely to find what’s left behind after winter has gone!

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.

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.

This month’s nature table focuses not on a tangible collection of objects, but on the end result of the process of creating a collection of sensory experiences. Rather than searching for treasures, experience the landscape with all you’ve got!

Terrifying though they may be for some people, bugs are fascinating, and make a fantastic topic of study during the summer months. This month’s nature table conquers all fear of insects and sheds light on the critters’ interesting qualities!

A product of our own habit of observing our surroundings, our ability to identify the contrast between things allows us to deepen our understanding of specific plants, creatures, and other aspects of the natural world. This month’s nature table highlights the search for dichotomy – a quest to identify the space between.

Spring has finally hatched here in western Massachusetts, and along with the new season comes some more hatching – this time bringing new creatures to our landscape. This month’s nature table explores a collection of egg-laying and egg-hatching local creatures!

April is a funny month. Our thumbs turn blue from pressing on the fast foward button to bring us kicking into Spring sunshine. It’s a time that really requires we wring out that last drop of patience. Looking at Nature Table for April, you see rocks. While not alive, they bear the markings of a long existence and a storied past. All accumulated through patience. Or being as strong as a rock. Read on and learn why “everybody needs a rock.”

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.

After twelve months’ worth of Nature Tables and a new year of growing and changing about to begin, it’s time to reflect upon the knowledge, treasures, and discoveries of exploring our surroundings. What new things will the spring bring to us? Only time will tell!

This month’s nature table brings new meaning to murder mystery dinner! Made up of the bits and pieces collected from various mealtime crime scenes, the current collection shines light on the connections between creatures and encourages young naturalists to consider what a variety of animal signs can tell an observer about their habits.

This month’s nature table features some out-of-season gems discovered thanks to the Thanksgiving snowstorm. Knocked from trees laden with snow, two kinds of nests are ready to be learned about, while evergreen needles serve as reminders of winter’s certain coming. Explore the overlap of summer, fall, and winter with this month’s collection!

From sheep shearing to American chestnut trees, this month our nature table is filled with fascinating place-based science themes. Winter birdwatching has begun, and fall mushroom season is just beginning to end – it’s a perfect time of year to practice using field guides to identify these fungi and feathery beasts!

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