Believing in Fairies … the Magic of Forest Kindergarten

Youth Programs in the Fells all starts with Forest Kindergarten, our flagship nature learning initiative for ages 4-5.  For older children, we also offer Forest Explorers (ages 5+-7) and Forest Adventurers (ages 8-10). Fundamentally, as our basic “Parent & Caretaker Information” page explains, our program is interest-led.


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 younger ages, we aim primarily to stimulate children’s curiosity about the natural world, and to develop critical thinking skills through self-guided exploration and problem solving.


So, as with any other Forest Kindergarten setting, we allow children time to play in the dirt, climb trees, and interact with each other — including sometimes lingering at “home base” just outside the Botume House.


Although it might appear otherwise, this is not doing nothing. There is a lot to do and see in that area, such as examining the butterfly activity at the pollinator gardens, spending time under the trees (which they child use to construct “fairy houses”) and a generous grassy area for running around.  A small beach for Spot Pond is just down the hill.


One child admires a fairy wand she found, while the other examines a leaf — in their very special “secret hideout” — a popular spot where nature meets the imagination. [Photo by Caro Fett]


In general terms our program can be described as structured unstructured play.  Our grandparents might recall a time when children might play outside with friends without any supervision at all. Our program attempts to recreate this form of healthy, social play in nature — with well-chosen, environmentally sensitive instructors as their guides.

Friends of the Fells exclusive link: Fairies of the Fells, a field guide by former Forest Instructor Brenlee Shipps

Above, Dog Tick – Photo by Dann Thombs via Flickr, CC by-nc-nd

This past winter was terrible for us humans.  To add insult to injury, it was great for ticks.  Ticks can stay insulated under the snow, and the excess moisture gives them all they need to thrive.  As we move into spring and summer, it’s time to start thinking about how to stay safe from ticks when you hit the trails.

Types of Ticks

Deer Ticks

Adult Deer Tick

Adult Deer Tick – Photo by Scott Bauer, USDA

Deer ticks (right) are responsible for causing Lyme disease, babesiosis and anaplasmosis. About 25% to 30% of the nymph-stage deer ticks in the New England are naturally infected with Lyme disease. Nearly all of these infected ticks will cause Lyme if not removed. Both nymph (young) and adult deer ticks will bite humans. The highest risk of being bitten by a deer tick occurs throughout the spring, summer and fall seasons. However, adults can also be out searching for a host any time winter temperatures are above freezing. Deer tick nymphs are the size of a poppy seed and deer tick adults are the size of a sesame seed.

Dog Ticks

Dog ticks (photo at top) are responsible for causing Rocky Mountain spotted fever and certain types of tularemia. In general, only the adult dog tick will bite humans. The highest risk of being bitten by a dog tick occurs during the spring and summer seasons. Dog ticks adults are about the size of a watermelon seed.

Tips for Avoiding Them

Before You Leave Home

  • Discuss ticks – Make sure everyone you are hiking with is aware of the dangers and knows how to stay safe.
  • Clothing – No sandals, wear high socks and long pants – Pull socks over pant legs – Wear long sleeve shirt, hats, light colored clothing.
  • Pretreat clothing – Socks, long pants, and shirt can be sprayed with Permethrin and then let dry 2 to 4 hours.  Permethrin binds tightly to clothing and once dry will not get on your skin. Permethrin kills ticks on contact with treated clothing. Permethrin treatment lasts for 6 washings or 6 weeks.  Store treated clothing in a plastic bag and hand wash and dry at low temp.

On The Trails

  • Use bug repellent – Children over 2 months of age can use 10-15% DEET to repel ticks – Spray boots, clothing and exposed skin.  Do not spray face.
  • Stay on trails – Do not hike off trail in high brush, weeds or grass.  Do not sit or lie in leaf litter.

After Your Hike

  • Perform tick check – Divide group into buddies and perform tick-check at end of hike – ticks are tiny, so look for new “freckles” in the following places:

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

  • Perform your check as soon as possible – the risk of Lyme Disease increases with a longer attachment time.
Lyme Disease Graph



What To Do If You Find A Tick

If bitten by a tick, use a “TickEase Tick Remover” with slotted scoop and thin tweezers to remove tick. Try to avoid squeezing the tick’s body to prevent from injecting yourself with the virus.

Scotch tape the tick to a white card.  Get the tick tested for Lyme disease. For testing see following two resources:

  • Mass. Dept. of Heath is a good source of info
  • Jennifer Murphy – Winchester Board of Health, 781-721-7121 – does free testing for town residents – just scotch-tape tick to a note card and deliver it to Jennifer.
  • Lyme Disease What Is It?”- Sponaugle Wellness (Fla.)
  • See also “Being Outdoors” information on Friends of the Fells youth programs site

H/T to our super volunteers Dennis Crouse and Laurie Adamson for the info in this post. 

This November, Massachusetts voters will have the opportunity to vote to update the 30-year-old statewide recycling program known as the Bottle Bill.  Expanding the nickel deposit on beverage containers to include bottled water, sports drinks, juice, and iced tea will help to ensure that more of those containers get recycled, and fewer of them end up as litter on our trails, on our streets, or in our water.  The Friends of the Fells wants to urge our members and supporters to vote YES on Question 2 because an updated Bottle Bill will take us one step closer to a litter-free Fells and a litter-free Massachusetts.

YESon2 logo

Why we support an updated Bottle Bill

Over its 30-plus-year history, the Bottle Bill’s success really speaks for itself.  80% of containers covered by the existing Bottle Bill are redeemed and recycled, while only 23% of non-deposit containers are recycled.  That means that 77% of bottles for on-the-go beverages such as bottled water, sports drinks, tea, and juice end up in landfills, or even worse as litter.

Passing Question 2 would change that.  Massachusetts voters have the opportunity to say that we want to put an end to the unnecessary distinction between beverage containers based on what kind of drink happens to be in them.  Voting Yes on 2 would acknowledge that the Bottle Bill has been a runaway success, and would update it for a new a generation to include popular single-serving beverages that weren’t as common as 1983 as they are today.

Even better, Question 2 would reestablish the Clean Environment Fund.  Unclaimed deposits would earmarked to improve recycling, clean up parks, and fund other environmental projects.  So even if you never claim your deposits, voting Yes on 2 would give you an easy way to continuously support environmental conservation in Massachusetts.

What you can do

We encourage you to visit the YES on 2 Campaign to learn more about how updating the Bottle Bill can help Massachusetts and how you can help to support this important step toward a cleaner, litter-free environment.

On Saturday, Danielle McClean over at Wicked Local Winchester reported that there have been “mixed reviews” of the decision by the city of Winchester to open the North Reservoir path in the Fells to hikers and dogs.  McClean writes:

[Jim] Gibbons, the town’s acting water and sewer operations manager,] said the decision to open the North Reservoir path was not backed by the town’s Water Department. He and his colleagues feared opening it up would risk contaminating the water with diseases such as cryptosporidium and coliform bacteria. He said the reservoirs have historically produced clean water. “You don’t want to make it worse and by putting people or dogs in the water you are taking a step toward it,” he said.

Gibbons is concerned about the effect of dogs jumping in the reservoir.

For the opposing view, McClean cites John Shawcross, “a retired water engineer and member of the committee tasked with studying the effects of increased access to the Fells reservoirs.”  Here’s what Shawcross had to say about any risk to the water supply:

Shawcross said it would be safe to open up the Middle Reservoir, but the town pulls water directly from the South Reservoir, which is why that one should remain closed. Water from the North Reservoir travels to the Middle Reservoir before spilling into the South Reservoir; it takes at least a year for water to travel to the water treatment plant from those areas, allowing the water to be subject to a natural cleaning process.

So when she points to “mixed reviews”, what McClean is really talking about are differing opinions among experts about what the potential health effects of the decision will be.  McClean talked to one person walking with her kid and her dogs on the North Reservoir path, but we really don’t see the public’s view of the decision reported here.

Given the differing opinions from the water experts, what do you think about the decision to open the North Reservoir path?  Is the added access to a previously restricted area of the Fells worth the risk?  Have you made use of the North Reservoir path since it opened?  Have you seen anyone engaging in activities that could contaminate the water?  Use the comments section below to leave your thoughts so we can really get a sense of what the reviews are for the current state of the North Reservoir path.

[Top Photo: Wicked Local Staff Photo/Ann Ringwood, Buy Photo]

Many of you probably recognize the view in the photo above.  That is, of course, the view of the Boston skyline as seen from the cliffs near Wright’s Tower.  It was taken just the other day on a beautiful evening with a spectacular sunset.  Still, I walked away a little disappointed.  Without being able to actually climb Wright’s Tower, I felt like I was in the best spot to actually enjoy the setting sun.  Though I could capture the beautiful evening light on the city, I missed the real action off to the west.

There are so many great views in the Fells, and plenty of places to watch the sunrise or sunset.  Spot Pond is one of my favorites.  No matter where the sun is rising or setting, you can always position yourself somewhere around Spot Pond to get the best view.  Plus, the reflections in the water just add to the spectacular nature of a colorful sunset.  Here’s a photo of the sun setting behind Spot Pond.

Spot Pond Sunset

Sometimes it’s not about being in a place that has an amazing view.  Especially for a sunrise, just being any place in the Fells is a great experience.  Most of us get to experience some aspect of the sunset every day, but sunrise is special moment that takes some effort to enjoy.  It’s easy to enjoy that unique morning light, no matter where you find yourself.  Here’s shot from a sunrise hike around the Fells Reservoir a while back.

Purple Flowers, Purple SkyI know that many of you get to spend a lot more time out on the trails than I do, and I’m sure you’ve found some great spots that you find yourself going back to again and again to catch a sunrise or sunset.  I hope you’ll consider sharing those spots in the comments below, so others can find them and enjoy them as much as you have.

What are your favorite sunrise/sunset spots in the Fells?

Write a comment below to share!