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Classrooms: ‘Forest Fridays’ let kindergarten students learn about nature through play

  • Ted Watt, a naturalist and environmental educator with the Hitchcock Center, points out where a deer has nibbled the buds from a branch during a Forest Friday hike in the Saw Mill Hills Conservation Area in Florence with R.K. Finn Ryan Road School kindergartners Henry Donohue, left, Abdias DeJesus, Dominic Ruiz and Lucian Colon-Ferranti on January 19, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • R.K. Finn Ryan Road School kindergartners, from left, Henry Donohue, Abdias DeJesus, Mason Paliaro Wallace, Dominic Ruiz, Savannah Laflam and Lucian Colon-Ferranti spot a nest in a tree during a Forest Friday hike. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • R.K. Finn Ryan Road School parent volunteer Jenny Boas plays with kindergartners near deer tracks that were highlighted with circles during a Forest Friday hike in the Saw Mill Hills Conservation Area in Florence on January 19, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ted Watt, a naturalist and environmental educator with the Hitchcock Center, tracks animals in the Saw Mill Hills Conservation Area in Florence during a Forest Friday hike with R.K. Finn Ryan Road School kindergartners, from right, Henry Donohue, Dominic Ruiz (partly obscured), Abdias DeJesus, Mason Pagliaro-Wallace and Aspen Murphy and education support professional Kate Braidman. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • R.K. Finn Ryan Road School education support professional Kate Braidman points out a deer track to kindergartner Dominic Ruiz, left, and Savannah Laflam, right, with Watt, standing at right. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ted Watt, a naturalist and environmental educator with the Hitchcock Center, looks over a tuft of fur he found with R.K. Finn Ryan Road School kindergartner Henry Donohue on a "Forest Friday" hike with his classmates in the Saw Mill Hills Conservation Area on January 19, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ted Watt, a naturalist and environmental educator with the Hitchcock Center, tracks animals in the Saw Mill Hills Conservation Area in Florence during a Forest Friday hike with R.K. Finn Ryan Road School kindergartners, from left, Henry Donohue, Lucian Colon-Ferranti and Abdias DeJesus on January 19, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Andre Culver, right, and his R.K. Finn Ryan Road School kindergarten classmates ascend a trail in the Saw Mill Hills Conservation Area in Florence for Forest Friday on January 19, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Emma Aronstin, top, waits for her R.K. Finn Ryan Road School kindergarten classmates, from left, Dominic Ruiz, Jakob Martin and Avery Hicks to clear a plank bridge they all made during a Forest Friday hike in the Saw Mill Hills Conservation Area in Florence. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • R.K. Finn Ryan Road School kindergartners Rosalie Simmons, left, Avery Hicks and Emma Aronstin play during a Forest Friday hike in the Saw Mill Hills Conservation Area in Florence on January 19, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • R.K. Finn Ryan Road School kindergarten teacher Andrea Egitto leads her students on a trail marked with a yellow blaze in the Saw Mill Hills Conservation Area in Florence for Forest on a recent Friday. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • R.K. Finn Ryan Road School kindergarten teacher Andrea Egitto gathers her students together at the start of an hour so in the Saw Mill Hills Conservation Area in Florence for Forest Friday on January 19, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Connor O’Brien, center left, and Desmond Brown, center right, play with their R.K. Finn Ryan Road School kindergarten classmates after hiking into the Saw Mill Hills Conservation Area in Florence with teacher Andrea Egitto, right, for Forest Friday on January 19, 2018. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING



@kate_ashworth
Wednesday, January 31, 2018

FLORENCE — Along with art, music and physical education, kindergarten teacher Andrea Egitto says nature exploration should be part of the curriculum.

So every week, the R.K. Finn Ryan Road School teacher takes her kindergarten class out into the woods for what she calls “Forest Friday.” For a couple hours, the Saw Mill Hills Conservation area becomes the classroom.

As they walked down the sidewalk from the school to the conservation area last week, Egitto told the students to be on the look out for birds.

From a distance, the class could hear a bird chirping.

“Blue jay,” one student shouted out.

Egitto explained the blue jay’s warning call to her students.

“The bird says ‘Watch out, the humans are coming,’” Egitto said.

Once in the conservation area, Egitto explains the boundaries, pointing out rocks and trees not to go past, and lets the students roam. Some grab sticks to create a fort or bridge, some play on the rocks.

On snow days, animal tracks are clear and Deryn Potter-Hewes, 6, said she likes to follow them and see where they go.

Deryn also said she likes to make fairy houses, including a recent one with a hollow opening on a tree root. She pointed out the leaves she added.

“The green leaves are for medicine,” Deryn said. “The brown leaves are for comfort.”

While one student was walking with a large stick, he accidentally hit another who started to cry. Egitto was able to ease the situation and turn it into a learning experience by making an ice pack with snow from the ground.

A group of students played by a stream and found that part of the stream flows underground. Mason Pagliaro-Wallace, 5, collected rocks of different shapes and sizes he found in a stream, and said he thinks they are filled with diamonds.

For the past decade, Egitto has been trying to add more nature exploration into her teaching, and over the years the school has obtained grants over the years for environmental education.

For this school year, the Mass Cultural Council award the school with a $5,000 grant for a residency with Ted Watt of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment. Watt recently led a “Forest Friday” class in the snow.

After attending a conference on outdoor learning last fall and talking with teachers at Hatfield Elementary School who do similar nature lessons, Egitto was inspired to make nature exploration a regular practice for her class.

She said that when students are playing in the woods they “create their own learning,” whether it be balance by climbing a rock, or focus by sitting still and listening to the birds.

“Every single thing they’re doing out here, they’re learning,” Egitto said.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.