Children and Nature Get Involved! School Gardens

Green Thumbs Summer Camp


Families near Charlotte, VT: Check out the camp I’ll be running this summer in Charlotte School Gardens.  Slots still remain – sign up or help spread the word now!

5-year-olders through 5th graders: Your thumbs will turn green after a week in Charlotte’s school gardens this summer! Play and work with friends to deepen knowledge and boost excitement about vegetables, fruits, seeds, pollination, decomposition, and garden ecosystems. Become an animal lover during our walking field trip to visit sheep at nearby Fifth Fence Farm. Each afternoon, transform into a chef to prepare a daily snack using ingredients just harvested from the garden.   Don’t forget to save some energy for playing on the playground, creating garden-themed art, exploring around the base of Pease Mountain, and making discoveries in and out of the gardens!

Camp Directors Tai Dinnan and Stacy Carter have extensive experience gardening with children and can’t wait to get their hands dirty at CCS.

More information & Registration Form at (click on “Recreation” in the menu on the left), or email



Children and Nature Get Involved! School Gardens

Summer Planning: Sign up for Camp!

There are signs around our house that we are coming to the end of winter: garden seeds have arrived in the mail, days are getting longer, and summer camp brochures are printed and on the counter.  My summer programming schedule is almost finalized and it’s going to be a good one.  I hope my campers have fun this summer – based on our planning so far, I am going to have a blast!

My summer will start and end with a week of Green Thumbs Camp at Charlotte Central School.  I can’t wait to rekindle my school garden energy and pull favorite garden games and activities out of the archives.  I’m especially interested to be running the camp with an amazing teacher and children’s garden guru Stacy Carter.  For the month of July, I’ll continue my work to explore, discover, and grow with children at the Lake Champlain Waldorf School.  This summer I’ll be leading the 6 to 8-year-old portion of their Turtle Lane Camp.  You can always visit my site for up-to-date programming information.  Thanks for spreading the word:


To register for Green Thumbs Camp, click here.


Children and Nature Get Involved!

More Summer Programming for Kids!

I’m gearing up for a fun summer!  If your family lives in Vermont, check out the additional programs and workshops I’ve added to my summer offerings.  As always, check out for the latest updates on my kids camps, workshops, and classes.  Thanks for spreading the word!





Children and Nature Get Involved!

Outdoor Fun this Spring and Summer!

Every April, the Children and Nature Network runs a “Let’s G.O.! (get outside)” campaign.  This is a great opportunity to bring together community members and have fun outside.  At Monkton Central School, we’ll have a variety of awesome outdoor activity choices for students on Thursday April 18th:Let's Go Get Outside Monkton

For Vermont families making summer plans, I’m excited to announce a partnership with Joe Schine.  Together we’ll be running a summer camp called “From Scratch” at the Bridge School in Middlebury, Vt.  We’re psyched about the freedom and creativity that this theme gives us.  Joe is an amazing artist and creator, and I love to explore nature and play with food.  Help us spread the word! From Scratch Summer Camp Vermontfrom scratch summer camp vermontFor more information about camp, email  Click here to download the Registration Form.  Updates and information can be found by visiting

Children and Nature Get Involved! Personal Sustainability: How-To

Maple Syruping with Kids

tapped-treeIf you live in an area with Sugar Maple trees and are a parent, teacher, or neighbor of kids, I strongly encourage you to consider “Sugaring” with them.  Maple sap runs during the school year, making a Maple Project the perfect seasonal activity to bring into the classroom.  The learning opportunities are endless.  In the process of sugaring, we encounter:

  • all three states of water (solid ice, liquid water, and water vapor)
  • diameter and circumference measurements
  • seasonal changes in trees and discussion of tree health
  • ratios
  • parts of a tree and functions of the layers of a tree trunk
  • local history and lore
  • many opportunities to use all five senses
  • tools of all kinds: drills, taps, hammers, buckets, measuring tapes, evaporators, thermometers, and more

I’ve included activities most suited to active groups containing a wide age-range of elementary students.  Shelburne Farms’ Project Seasons and your state’s Maple Syrup Producers Association have additional resources if you’re looking for more ideas for your group of students.  I like to start with students in a circle around objects representing key vocabulary like tap, bucket, trunk, roots, measuring tape, and thermometer.  Once we all understand these concepts, we get outside and get moving!

sapSappy Sappy Flow Up My Tree (adaptation of Fishy Fishy Cross my Sea): Learn the function of sap for the tree and consider the impact of tapping on tree health

– Leading Questions: How does food stored in the roots and trunk get back to the buds of the tree so new leaves can grow?  How does a tree know when spring is coming?  At what temperature can frozen water turn to liquids?

  • Have students line up at one end of a gym or basket ball court/open running area
  • One adult stands in the middle, and is the “tap and bucket” – the hole in the tree that we drilled to collect sap. Explain that as sap droplets (students) flow up the tree, from the roots (one end of the court) to the branches (the other end) they bringing food to the buds.  Some sap, however, is “caught” by the tapped hole, and flows out into the bucket
  • The “it” adult, yells “sappy sappy flow up my tree!”
  • Tagged students must stay in the middle of the court, and become “holes” for the next round. All folks that are “it” chant “sappy sappy flow up my tree”, and the remaining group of sap droplets run across the space, trying to avoid the holes

-Group Questions: What happens when there is only one hole? What happens when there are a lot of holes? Does very much sap get to the buds so that they can grow into leaves?  Are there a lot of wounds, making trees more likely to get a disease?  As we will learn next, bark provides protection for the tree.  What number of holes is best for the tree?

HeartwoodSapwoodHeartwood, Sapwood (adaptation of Red Light, Green Light): Learn the parts of a tree trunk and their functions

  • Explain the parts of a trunk using a diagram or tree cookie
  • Give all students a name tag sticker (or masking tape) naming one part of the trunk to stick to their coat.  Review each part’s function, and have each student group think of a motion to depict their new identity (show right arm muscle, then left for strong heartwood, cross and re-cross hands in front of chest for protective bark)
  • Review what temperatures are above and below freezing.  Review that sap runs when it goes above freezing during the day, and freezes solid at night when temperatures goes below freezing
  • Start on one end of your running space
  • Teacher goes to other end.  Explain that instead of playing “red light, green light,” you’ll “Flow” and “freeze” according to the temperatures shouted by the teacher.  If she shouts a number below freezing, students may not move.  If she shouts a number above freezing, students may advance, making their motion, toward the teacher and opposite end of the court

MeasuringMeasuring “Trees” Activity (adapted from Project Seasons’ “Measuring Monsters and Midgets”)

  • Ask: How do we get sap from a tree? (we drill into sapwood (a.k.a. xylem – about 2 inches in), sap “leaks” out hole as it rises from roots to branches)
  • Think about our first running game.  Can we tap any size of tree?  Trees have to be certain size “wide” (not tall): their circumference is measured. Show Circumference Chart.  Have students use measuring tapes to measure their teacher, you, each other, and a bunch of students together. How many taps could we safely have if we were maple trees?

tap-and-hammerTasting Sap and Syrup

  • Yes, these running games make maple education fun.  Tasting maple syrup, however, can’t be beat.   Ask: What is the difference between sap and syrup? 40 gallons of sap must be evaporated to get one gallon of sap! In other words, 39 gallons of water must be turned into steam and go into the air!  What remains is maple syrup.
  • So sap is A LOT of water and some sugar, vitamins, and minerals the tree needs for food to make leaves.  Maple syrup is concentrated sugar, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Taste samples!
  • Extension: have the group generate a list of description words (adjectives) that they might use to describe sap and/or syrup.  Each student can then use words off of the list to write a poem.
Get Involved! Musings

Empowering Farm to Cafeteria

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend this past weekend’s 6th annual National Farm to Cafeteria Conference.  Burlington has been a hot spot for amazing local food and food systems thinking this summer, and I’ve loved being nearby to take advantage.  I’ve had a great summer vacation; this conference was the perfect way to consider which next professional steps to pursue.

In an effort to process and absorb all of the information I’ve heard this weekend, I’ve listed some of the resources and highlights below:

-Vermont Congressmen: WOW,  our senators and representatives are doing really good work!  All made appearances over the course of the weekend and they totally get it.  I’m pretty sure that most of the things Bernie said could get him kicked out of office in most states, but in Vermont he got standing ovations.  Those of us working to promote farm to cafeteria work are lucky to have Sanders, Welch, and Leahy in Washington.  Chellie Pingree from Maine is equally impressive.  It’s nice to feel excited about some of the work being done by our federal government!

Burlington and/or Vermont can be a model: With support for local food sourcing at all levels of the school and political bureaucracies, towns and cities in Vermont can and should become models for others working to increase farm purchasing.  Our smaller scale makes it easier to test things out, and our citizens still cherish our agricultural roots and value family farmers.  Producing, sourcing, processing, training, education, and paying for local healthy food can be perfected here, and then expanded across the country.  In Burlington, Superintendent Jeannie Collins and Food Service Director Doug Davis (my cafeteria man in Charlotte from elementary school years) are visionary role models.  Chuck Ross and Ellen Kahler’s work at the state level will support on the ground work.

Shelburne Farms is doing great farm based education work and I’m psyched I can tell out-of-state admirers that I attended summer camp there as a kid.

-The farm to cafeteria network is expanding.  This year there were over 800 attendees from across the nation.  Everyone I spoke to was doing real on-the-ground work that was making a difference in their community or region.  Everyone had experiences to share, advice to offer, or informed questions to ask.  I loved every side conversation I got to have!

-Gail Christopher from the Kellogg Foundation gets it.  I was so enthralled by her speech that I forgot to write anything down.  If I find her remarks in the post-conference media, I’ll link to it here!  She brought such a real, eloquent, and equitable perspective to the conversation.

Here are some great resources to check out for garden educators:

Thanks to everyone who inspired and motivated me at the conference.  It was a great weekend.

Get Involved! Personal Sustainability: How-To

Celebrate Biking: Fun Free Events!

As I plan a move to rural Vermont, I become more and more appreciative of how bikeable metro Boston has become.  I’ve lived here for 7 years without owning a car and have loved it!

May is bike month and this week is Bay State Bike Week and Bike to Work Week.  In other words, it’s the perfect time of year to take advantage of fun free events that bike advocacy groups are holding.  If you stored your bike for the winter, it’s time to dust it off, pump up your tires, and get back on the road!  Cities in the greater Boston area have been doing a lot to make biking easier – bike lanes and paths now connect most communities in the area.  This is the week to learn more about what’s going on in your community, check out your local bike advocacy organization, participate in the fun, and get psyched for a season of cycling.  Tons of events are posted in this calendar, and I’ve highlighted the fun ones in the Somerville area below:

-Read about the Rush Hour Race in which a biker beat a T rider and driver from Davis to Kendall.

Somerville Bike Committee’s Commuter Breakfast by Star Market and Petsi’s Pies on Beacon St. Thursday (moved due to rain) from 7:30-9am

Boston Bikes Bike Week Celebration Friday includes free breakfast!

Tours of the Mystic Basin Trails (11am) and Parks of Somerville (2pm) on Sunday.  These are awesome places for Somerville residents to know about, but it really does help to be shown the way by a guide your first time!

Get Involved! Musings

GO: Get Outside

The beauty of April is that we are all stir crazy and it becomes extremely enjoyable to spend time outdoors.  The signs of spring continue to accumulate, weather warms up enough to make pick-up sports enjoyable, and the sun is still up when we get out of work in the evening.   I couldn’t have agreed more when the Children and Nature Network declared April “Let’s G.O.! (Get  Outside) Month.”

Today I coordinated a School Garden Work Day in East Somerville.  We replaced rotting wooden raised garden bed frames with sturdy recycled plastic timber beds salvaged from the old East Somerville School garden.  A reporter from the Somerville Journal covering the event asked me a seemingly simple question: “Why is this good for the children?”

I thought for a moment, and asked for clarification: “Why are school gardens good for children, or why is it beneficial for them to participate in today’s work day today?”  I knew my answer for the first possibility, but hadn’t really thought about the second.

“Why is it good for students to be here today,” she clarified.

I quickly realized that I had many answers.  Youth in the city have very few opportunities to do outdoor manual work with tools.  Shoveling dirt with shovels can provide infinite learning experiences: what happens when I toss the dirt through the air? How can I get more dirt with each scoop? How much is too much – can I lift the bucket I filled?  Beyond the learning experiences, it is also a great opportunity for physical activity and strength building.

The great thing about team work and physical tasks is that we can see, very quickly, the results of our labor.  We started with empty garden beds and a mountain of soil.  By the end of the day, the beds were full and the pile was gone.  Dirt was smeared across our faces, and our arms complained when we tried to pick up heavy things as we cleaned up and prepared to leave.  The space was transformed and improved, and we were the ones who did it!  Participating in this event provided all workers – young and old – with learning opportunities, two hours of physical activity, a chance to improve the school grounds, proof in the power of team work, and a huge sense of accomplishment upon completion of our task.

I encourage everyone – youth and adults – to find opportunities to work and play outside this month.  If you’re looking for events or places to get outside or engage in a community improvement project, here are a few suggestions:

Get Involved!

Boiled Down: A Maple Recap

By the end of the Boil Down weekend, I was barely able to speak in complete sentences.  I managed to take the following notes, which still sum up our season’s success quite well:

Friday: Boiled from 7:30am-10:30pm, had 260 students, and about 60 adult visitors over the course of the day.  Cold weather!
Saturday: Boiled from 8:30am-9:30pm, had about 500 visitors despite rainy weather.  Waffles and hot drinks were a hit.  Tons of families dressed in great raincoats and boots and colorful umbrellas.  Finished off Friday’s syrup on a burner near the evaporator.
Sunday: Finished off and canned from 9am-4pm, finished off Saturday’s syrup, canned Friday’s and Saturday’s batches.  Yield: 3 gallons.

Since photos, it is said, say more than a 1000 words, here are a few from the weekend:

Third snow of the year? On the first day of the Maple Boil Down in March? The first field trip group gathers at the Growing Center.
"Does anyone know what this tool is called?" "A Therminator!" "Well, that's close..." Learning about temperature, evaporation, and fire in a city park...with MAPLE SAP!

…and then the camera went away for our rainy Saturday morning entertaining…

The sun breaks through the evaporating steam to keep the afternoon and evening enjoyable for those tending the fire
Well, maybe it was grilling food AND the sun that kept us going!
Finishing off: The final day of our marathon from the comfort of home.
Get Involved!

You’re invited: Maple Syrup Boil Down Festival

Join Groundwork Somerville on March 3rd at the Somerville Community Growing Center for the annual Somerville Maple Syrup Project Boil Down!   Community members of all ages are invited to 22 Vinal Avenue between 10am and 2pm to watch and learn as sap from local sugar maple trees is boiled down into pure maple syrup over a warm fire.  Attendees can expect to enjoy syrup-tasting, children’s music by the Animal Farm, kids’ activities, demonstrations, and much more! Waffles, syrup, hot drinks and Somerville Maple Syrup Project T-shirts will be on sale.

At 11am and 12noon, Animal Farm will be entertaining Boil Down Festival guests!   Animal Farm is a Boston-based trio of musicians and educators whose lively performances entertain and engage children ages 3 to 103! Each thirty minute show will be a colorful blend of original music, storytelling, hilarious antics and games.

Hope to see you there!