In mid-autumn, fourth and fifth grade students from Ashland Elementary School were able to take two exploratory field trips to the newly established conservation area in Ashland known as Whitten Woods. Whitten Woods is a 453-acre working forest with public trails managed by the Squam Lakes Association. Whitten Woods offers remarkable views of the Squam watershed from two different summits, North Peak and South Peak, each within a short distance from the parking lot on Highland Street.
The trips were led by long-time environmental educator and current Plymouth State University graduate student, Carolyn Loeb, and chaperoned by Ashland teachers and school staff. “It was a really special experience for some of these students, especially those who don't get out in the woods very much,” says Loeb.
As part of a graduate-level project, Loeb worked closely with teachers to develop a targeted curriculum for each group of students. The fifth grade students studied biodiversity, played games to learn about local plants and animals, and conducted a science experiment to study plant diversity. The fourth graders focused on a lesson that helped them to augment their in-class learning about maps and compasses, while practicing teamwork for the duration of the field trip. Every fourth grade student was given a job to lead or motivate their group, as well as to collect data about the hiking experience. To make students more comfortable in the woods, Loeb talked to both groups about common safety skills, and how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly by sharing the Leave No Trace principles.
At the end of each day, students were asked to complete an anonymous feedback form about their experience on the field trip. “It was awesome,” wrote one student. “I had a lot of fun today and hope to do it again!” said another. Across the board, a large majority of students said that they had a great experience. “Ashland Elementary School was a wonderful partner in making the two field trips happen,” said Loeb. “I have a deep gratitude for the support that I received from teachers and administrators during the process.”
At a time where books like The Last Child in the Woods have highlighted a national nature-deficit disorder, field trips like this can reconnect kids with their local conservation areas like Whitten Woods. Loeb hopes that after these field trips, students are more likely to expose their family and friends to the wonders of their own backyard.