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Hillside Nature Walks Are Back!

Liks observing a pond“Can you hear the robins?” S.T.E.A.M. teacher Robin Farrell asked Phyllis Udice’s third graders. The students were out in Hillside Woods on their first class nature walk in two years.
After a COVID-induced hiatus, the much-loved Hillside nature walks are back on the school calendar. Each spring and fall, Farrell takes every class out into the woods to enrich their classroom learning.
“They are so happy to be back in nature,” Farrell said.
A grant from the Children's Environmental Literacy Foundation (CELF) four years ago enabled Farrell to align the nature walk program to the new state standards: Kindergarteners look for what animals need to survive, first graders do sound mapping, second graders observe bodies of water, third graders study life cycles, and fourth graders learn about invasive species.
The Hillside Woods make the perfect outdoor classroom. Last week, students saw turtles sunning on a log (in a great example of camouflage), a pair of ducks building a nest, a great blue heron, red winged blackbirds, blue jays, and yes, those robins.
kids climbing over logs on a pathUdice’s students walked around a fallen tulip tree, which native Americans might have used to build canoes, and carefully skirted a tree covered in poison ivy. The real lesson of the day was about how bull frogs can’t breed in vernal pools, but peepers can. It’s all about the different pace of their life cycles.
Several students said they were familiar with the woods, visiting frequently with their families, but for others it was a new experience.
“The quieter we are the better,” Farrell told the students, advising them to listen for water and the rustling of leaves, although their excitement made that advice a little hard to follow.
“It feels like Lord of the Rings,” said Connell B.
Parker S. was right on point when the class pondered why a skunk cabbage smells. “Maybe for some bees it smells good and they say, ‘Let me go get some nectar!’”
Udice said the students would complete the experience with a writing assignment to build upon what they had learned.
kid listening to teacher in the woods