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Parents + Instructor Info

Youth Programs

Information for families

Welcome to our continually expanding Youth Programs in the Middlesex Fells!  This information is designed to familiarize you with the general philosophy of Forest Kindergarten and related programming, and to give you and your child an idea of what to expect.  We are looking forward to an exciting season of learning and exploring together!

Our Philosophy

Your child’s learning will be interest-led.  The forest will be our inspiration, and we will encourage the kids to explore at their own pace, and according to their own interests.  At these younger ages, we aim primarily to stimulate children’s curiosity about the natural world, and to develop their critical thinking skills through self-guided exploration and problem solving.  The instructors will offer quick science lessons to the children opportunistically and will encourage curiosity by asking lots of questions (i.e.: What do you think that animal eats?  Why do you think it has all those colors?  Why is this leaf such a funny shape?  How long will it take that log to ‘decompose’?)  We will have a number of activities always available to the kids, including bug catching, bird watching, puddle-stomping, exploring secret hideouts, and generally running around.  But we will not be forcing the children to participate in any specific activities, or scheduling their time (with the possible exception of “snack”).

We will use lots of positive reinforcement to help children build respect for every living thing they encounter in the forest, as well as for themselves and each other.  To help them build this respect as well as effective communication skills, social skills, and empathy, we will continuously remind the children about the following Rules for Kindness:

  • No exclusionary behavior. With few exceptions, if a child asks another child if they can play together, the correct answer will be ‘yes.’
  • No hitting, grabbing, pushing, or name-calling. A child who has been grabbed (for example) will be asked if they wanted to be grabbed.  If the answer is no, they will be encouraged to say so, and their feelings heard and respected.
  • Taking turns– no one monopolizes a game or an activity.
  • If a child appears hurt or upset, we will expect the other children to “check in on their friend.”
  • If we find an animal, we can pick it up to examine it, build a habitat for it, and show it to our friends, but any animals we find must always be treated gently, and returned to the place where we found it.
  • No picking flowers. We can smell them and examine them, but we have to leave them for the pollinators to find!


Please “pre-sign” for us the following combined liability, first aid & CPR, and photo permission waiver upon dropping your child off the first day.  If the child needs an EpiPen® (or equivalent), for example, there is a space on the form to indicate that — as well as any other ongoing health issues so we can best attempt to serve your child’s needs.  If someone other than a legal guardian will be dropping your child off, we will ask that you let us know so we can make arrangements for you to sign the waiver in advance.

Also, parents/guardians should indicate (preferably on the online registration form) or when they drop children off whether someone else will be picking them up — if they don’t, and someone other than person who dropped them off comes to collect them, leaders will have to call the parent or guardian to confirm. When in doubt, we always check IDs.

Finally, we would love to include your child or children’s images in support of our educational and charitable mission.  We do have a media release form that is included in our waiver.  Thank you!

WAIVER LINK -> combined waiver for web

This Winter (Dec. 2017 – Jan. 2018) during good weather pick-up and drop-off will take place at Botume House, 4 Woodland Road, Stoneham,   In case of snow, Greenwood Park at 149 Pond Street will be our default.

Summer precautions: Please make sure your child has had sunscreen and bug repellent applied when they arrive in the morning, and that he or she brings the following items each day:

  • Backpack
  • Snack (no peanuts and no snack-sharing – for allergy reasons)
  • Water bottle with child’s name on it
  • Rain jacket
  • Rain pants (recommended, as we will remain outdoors in light rain)
  • Change of clothes (or quick-dry outfits)
  • Shoes or sandals that can get wet – the children will be going in mud puddles and there will be a sprinkler on hot days outside the Botume House

Your child may also bring along his or her favorite bug catcher, magnifying glass, binoculars, field guide, etc., if they are willing to share these items with the other children.


Being outdoors

We will take shelter indoors to use the bathroom and in case of heavy rain or lightning, but children will otherwise spend the entire time outdoors — exploring the forest adjacent to Spot Pond or the woodlands at Greenwood Park.

This “place-based” approach to education, where children learn about the natural world in the geographical location where they live, gives them the opportunity to meaningfully connect with and care about the environment.  As a consequence of your child being outdoors for two+ hours each day, he or she is likely to get dirty, cold, and/or wet.  Please make sure your child arrives in clothes that can survive these conditions!

Ticks, Mosquitoes, and Poison Ivy

Summertime: Ticks and mosquitoes are out in force every summer so again, please make sure to apply bug repellent on your child each day before dropping him or her off at any forest programming.  We also recommend doing a tick check on your child at the end of each day.  Ticks can be tiny, so look for ticks the size of poppy seeds or larger in the following places:

  • Inside and behind the ears
  • Along hairline
  • Back neck
  • Armpits
  • Groin
  • Legs
  • Behind knees
  • Between toes


Here is a link to more information about ticks and mosquitoes in Massachusetts.  Here is a one-page “Tick Update” PDF with simple suggestions for insect repellent strategy: Tick Update – 2017

Additional outdoor safety information can be found in our 2015 Trail Adopters handbook.  While written specifically for the adult volunteers in Friends of the Fells who maintain the trails deep in the woods, it contains basic information useful to all of us who enjoy our shared forest preserve.

Our forest instructors are well versed on avoiding these common potential hazards, but the 2015 Trail Adopters handbook provides useful tips and background including:

Ticks – Ticks are small arachnids often found in tall grass and bushes from spring through fall.  Use insect repellent, and wear light-colored clothing to make it easier to see ticks. Learn proper procedures for identifying and removing ticks. A complete inspection of the body should be conducted to look for evidence of the ticks [see  Tick Update – 2017]. Medical advice should be sought if a tick is not easily removed or if you have any questions regarding a potential tick bite. Early intervention is key.

Poison ivy – The oil from this plant is irritating to most people, producing an itchy rash that is easily spread by scratching. The response to poison ivy varies widely between individuals, with some being hardly affected while others may have severe allergic reactions.

Note – In the Friends of the Fells Forest Program we find taking care to wash the affected area with soap and water immediately after contact helps prevent reaction, see step-by step DIY on Wikihow.  Click image above for some useful mnemonic devices to help identify poison ivy.

Pictured above, Jewel weed often grows in the same places as poison ivy and can be an effective antidote, so it is worth becoming familiar with. The orange flowers make jewel weed easy to spot, once you learn to identify it. If exposed to poison ivy, the prompt application of oil from the stem of a jewel weed plant may be enough to prevent a reaction entirely, and at the very least will offer significant symptom relief.  The treatment of poison ivy dermatitis with jewel weed is a common folk remedy, which dates back to native American medicine [J. Wilderness Medicine].

General Personal Safety

Our very low student-to-instructor ratio will ensure that the children will be carefully monitored at all times.  The class is capped at ten children, six in the springtime, and we will have 2-3 adult instructors.  All of our instructors have been trained in CPR/First Aid and have been screened by CORI.

We will allow children to climb trees if they wish, but not to heights greater than 2x their body height. Engaging in this low-moderate risk activity will allow the children to build confidence and competence negotiating their physical environment.

In the case of emergency or heavy rain, the children will be brought inside the DCR’s Botume House to wait with instructors until the weather passes, or parents pick them up.

We are still hiring instructors but already welcome back many of our former instructors, including:

 sullivan_headshot Born and raised in New England, Nicole Sullivan grew up with the forest as her playground. Through her work with the YMCA and Bunker Hill Community College, Nicole has ample experience passing on her love for nature with children of all ages.
A rising Medford High School senior with outstanding academic skills, Erik Lam belongs to Students of the Fells, a sister organization to Youth Programs in the Fells.  Erik has a wealth of experience working with young children, including as youth soccer coach, after-school aid at the Brooks Elementary School, and as volunteer mentor for iCan Bike, a program to help children with disabilities learn to ride a bike using special techniques and assistive devices.


  Shelby Meyerhoff is a longtime educator and environmentalist in the Boston area. She has taught children in a variety of settings, including the Writers’ Express and CityKicks! after-school programs, and has worked with nonprofits, including Conservation Law Foundation, to advocate for environmental justice. Shelby is delighted to be joining the Forest Kindergarten program as an instructor this year. Outside of her teaching in the program, she is a writer, artist, and face painter.
 whitman_headshot  Martha Whitman has lived in Boston area most of her adult life. She has worked for Head Start and other programs for young children for many years.Currently she works for Drumlin Farm Preschool part time. For about six years she lived in Atlanta, GA, where she taught preschool and kindergarten. While living in Atlanta she became interested in outdoor education. She missed New England where most of her family lives so she moved back. She went to Dean College and then to Lesley University – and studied early childhood education, art and management.
 Brenlee Brenlee Shipps will be a senior this fall at George Mason University, studying Earth Science with a concentration in geology. She has worked with the Friends of the Fells last year as a forest instructor, and as an intern, helping Park Interpreter Gillian Badwan run and plan programs for children ages 3 to 10. She grew up in Stoneham and graduated from Stoneham High School in 2014 as a member of National Honors Society and captain of the Outdoor Track and Field team. She is passionate about geology, paleontology, reptiles, and the great outdoors. More than anything, she loves adventure and is excited to be part of this year’s team!
  Kelli Hanson is thrilled to be returning to Forest Kindergarten for a second summer season. A resident of Arlington since 2012, Kelli has a BA in early care and education from UMass Amherst and currently works as a Special Education Teaching Assistant. Prior to that Kelli spent more than a decade as an in-store educator and Healthy Eating Specialist with Whole Foods Market, where she provided guidance to customers hoping to make healthier food choices for their families. When she’s not teaching, you might see her hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire or running the trails of the Fells as she prepares for her next trail race.
  Carolyn Ryan will be a senior at the University of Maine in the fall, where she is majoring in Wildlife Ecology with a minor in Education. Born and raised in Melrose, she grew up running around the Fells, particularly in the areas surrounding Spot Pond. She has worked as a camp counselor since 2012, and works part-time as a student aide at her university preschool. She loves to stop and try to identify any interesting plants, birds, and bugs that she comes across, and is currently working on hiking the 48 4000 footers in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Her other passions include kayaking and baking.
 pedemonti_headshot Catherine Pedemonti‘s definition of the perfect day is hanging out with kids in the woods. She is an environmental educator who has taught at Drumlin Farm Community Preschool, led the kids walks at Fresh Pond in Cambridge, been nanny to a myriad of awesome kids, and organized educational and volunteer programs at public green spaces throughout the greater Boston area. She is also mom to two kids (as well as a dog and some chickens), and when she’s not hanging out with kids in the woods, she enjoys biking, canoeing, cooking, and gardening.
  Working with youth and education is one of Soumia Aitelhaj‘s passions. She developed strong leadership and relationship-building skills working with international students, leading the group dynamic. She also taught in Malden Public Schools as a substitute teacher, in which she prided herself in creating a warm, harmonious learning environment. She ensured that students were not left behind and used the arts to develop creative lessons plans so that each student’s learning style was met.  “It was the Kindergarten age group that I enjoyed teaching the most,” she writes, and we are happy to have her in this role.
  Tufts University student Harry Kong hails from Milton, home of the DCR’s Blue Hills Reservation. A mentor to many, Harry’s motivational nature inspires youth from all backgrounds to get the most out of their learning experiences. Having attended and worked at various camps, Harry has a genuine understanding of what a difference a great summer program can make. This is why Harry is dedicated to ensuring that each child gets the most out of their time in the Middlesex Fells and is able to reflect upon it with fond memories. In his spare time, Harry enjoys serving on the Tufts student senate, hiking, and film-making.

Additional support provided by:Gillian Badwan (DCR Park Interpreter)

Gillian works with the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) at the Middlesex Fells Reservation as well as a hike leader for the Friends of the Fells. She can frequently be found in the Fells hiking and looking for herons, her favorite type of bird. She especially loves to be outdoors when it’s raining and muddy!


Please feel free to contact Ann Frenning Kossuth, Youth Programs Coordinator, directly with any questions or concerns, and thank you again for your participation!