Leading Babes in the Woods hikes

Growing up on Cape Cod, I spent at least a third of my childhood playing in the woods. My dad is a land surveyor and my mom and avid walker and horseback rider, so the trails we’d hike on weekends varied in length and location, and each trek came with off-the-cuff information about our local history, location of town boundaries, emergence of spring flowers, and insider information about the best places to look for pheasant, quail, deer, and horse tracks.

Accompanied by dedicated volunteer co-leaders Laurie and Dennis, I am honored to lead the weekly Babes in the Woods hikes, a tradition now 15 years strong. While many of you know that Babes is a hike for parents and their babies, what many may not know is that the hike meets year-round. What I love most about these hikes is that the Fells is a place where, like the Cape, you can easily become lost in your surroundings, especially in the calm of winter. And while the outdoors is a perfect place for solitary reflection, I think nature is meant, ultimately, to be shared.

What I’ve found the most spectacular over the last six months has been the change of the trails as one season becomes the next. We tend to rotate our hikes between five or six trails and amend them based on weather. It’s been amazing to see that a trail we hiked in July is now almost unrecognizable as the same path and the distance over which you can see now that the trees are bare.

Our winter hikes have transitioned from an hour-long hike to an hour and a half long jaunt with a short break midway for the dissemination of food and water to our younger set, who have ranged in age from four weeks to over two years. The new school of nature education lauds the return of children to unexplored outdoor spaces and away from electronic devices. Babes in the Woods exposes children to their natural surroundings at about as early an age as possible. Even the babies who slept through the entire hike in their earliest weeks of life are now keeping themselves awake and investigating with their eyes the canopy of trees, sky, and clouds under which we pass. I can only imagine the positive impact this will have on these babes as they grow into nature-loving toddlers.

Our group is dynamic; Most of the hikers who joined us in early June have returned to work, their babies to daycare, while others have been kept away by the cold. We’ll head into January with our small but intrepid group of regulars, a friendly and diverse mix of moms, dads, and guardians. We’ll hike through the cold and, most likely, some snow and watch as the flora and fauna make their gradual shifts through winter into spring. At the point at which we start to see some green buds and crocus points, I imagine we’ll begin to meet some new recruits and see a few returnees who will be ready to set out with us again in the milder temperatures. Whether you’re a brand new parent or a fourth-year hiker, we look forward to having you along!

~Gillian Badwan

Over the past years I have volunteered at the Linden school to help teach fourth graders the importance of science in their everyday life. In a school setting the focus of the day takes a hard line approach towards learning with little time for exploration of ideas. This was the approach I have grown to expect when it comes to education.

With this background you can imagine my surprise when I learned about how the Friends of the Fells Kindergarten class would be taught. On my first day of work I saw kids with no experience in the woods running around and learning through their natural curiosity without the teachers having to push lessons onto the kids. 2014-07-29 10.09.24 (1)

This education style worked perfectly for the three to six year old student who is naturally curious and longs to explore the world around them. The Fells Kindergarten program understood this concept and thus created a lesson plan that is student lead.

Working with the Fells was the first time I had ever heard of a student led teaching style, and to be honest I was unsure how well it would work. I had thought that without the teacher leading the day the students would run around playing in the woods and have no wish to learn, boy was I wrong.

With its student led classes, the Fells kindergarten program allowed the kids to explore at their own pace, taking as much time as needed to understand a new idea before moving on. By asking questions such as “How do you think these trees got here?” we were able to challenge the kids with questions they genuinely wanted the answers to, allowing a moment of adventure to also become a learning experience. 2014-07-22 10.11.25 HDR

While teaching at the Linden school I often found it difficult to keep the students staying focused and on point. Especially if it was a topic that didn’t interest the student. Often I would look up from teaching and see one or two students daydreaming. This problem virtually disappeared with a student led program.

By taking the students into the woods and letting them explore at their own pace the Fells kindergarten class kept the students immersed in new experiences and ideas that could be explored for anywhere from five minutes to a whole hour. With the student having the choice to listen and learn or to continue exploring the students never got bored throughout the day, and while the student led approach might not teach as much as a program where students sit at a desk for hours at a time it allows for the students curiosity and creativity to take hold, traits that I feel are essential for kindergarten students.


Shawn watching as the kids build rivers and dams next to Spot Pond.

~ Shawn Smith is an undergraduate student at Salem State University.  He co-led the Forest Kindergarten for Friends of the Fells this summer, and came to us through the Malden Mayor’s Youth Employment Program.

My time working at the newly formed Forest Kindergarten has been amazing! I truly did have a lot of fun; it was actually a job I looked forward to coming to in the morning! When I first found out I was placed at Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation I was curious to know what I would be doing since I wasn’t familiar with the Fells. I checked out their website and came to the assumption I’d probably be in the forest doing outdoor activities like hiking. When I found out I’d be working with the Forest Kindergarten I was thrilled, because I love working with kids they’re just able to see the world differently than adults do (and are super adorable)! They’re able to be much more attentive to things that adults often overlook things like the changes in nature. Too often in our lives we’re consumed with the bigger picture and the issues we’re dealing with, usually out of our control, that we miss the small things in life that have major impacts. These small changes are what children notice and help bring to our attention. Something that may seem so insignificant to us like the leaves changing color is an amazing observation to a child who is learning about the world around them. With the first week in play I really had my attention focused on the kids and what they were interested in on our adventures.  Regine_plantID However, with each week subsequently I also began to notice new things in the forest that I didn’t notice before along the same trail. Honestly it was our young explorers that helped me realize this, because with each coming week a new group of kids would point out something that I didn’t see the week before (or at least didn’t notice). This got me thinking that although I was in the forest surrounded by nature I wasn’t really looking at it. When I began to really look, I started to really notice features like the different shaped leaves and a variety of flowers I didn’t see just the day before! What I also noticed towards the end of the program were parents coming a little earlier than the start of the program with their children to just go on a short walk through the forest! This got me thinking that this program is really fantastic because not only is it getting the kids excited about nature but the parents excited enough to explore nature themselves! I felt as though this was a beginning of a great cycle, where these children would grow up to bring their kids to explore natures outdoors and so on! I also started to think about after school programs, summer programs, and just regular grade school and what I realized was that going out and exploring nature itself isn’t really incorporated as much into the curriculum. Therefore, children unintentionally are learning not to care for the natural environment that their fortunate enough to live in. It’s a mindset that many people have, which is why our environment slowly continues to deplete before our eyes. This is why programs like the Forest Kindergarten really help young children grow up with a certain amount of respect and appreciation for the environment. An appreciation they’ll pass on to future and current generations!


~ Regine Borgella is a student at Salem State University, studying Biomedical Science.  She came to us through the Malden Youth Employment Program and co-led Forest Kindergarten this summer.



Spending 17 years locked in the urban areas of Malden, I thought I had experienced a splendid life. For 17 years, I was taught of the advantages of the constant urban expansion. They tell me that life is more convenient in the city, that life is better-rounded in the city, and that life is more enlightened in the city. I realize now that I have been blinded by these teachings that I neglected the simplicity of life.

In the woods is where life is simplest; where one sees a variety of living organisms. In the midst of peaceful and fresh air, there’s a red bird flying by, there’s a black butterfly flying low on the ground, there’s an injured owl hiding by a tree, and there’s me watching all of this in awe. I look around again and I see burnt trees on the ground. Walking in the woods for two weeks made me feel as if I am one of the living organisms, and it pains me to know that large business owners are constantly trying to expand into the little rural areas that we have. It leaves me speechless to realize that I was one of the teenagers of this generation who have never seen the beauty of nature all of these years and now the amount of woodlands is disappearing.

In the first few days of hiking, I was unused to the insects and muddy environment. Although I was not complaining aloud, I do admit I was inside. As days passed and I continued to enter the woods as part of my job, I grew closer with the woods and I start to enjoy the eye-opening experience each time I hike. I was able to think to myself in peace and reflect on my current difficulties looking at the vast amount of trees. Of course, I was able to do that at home in my own peaceful bedroom, but the peace in the woods is different. There are the sounds of the wind blowing the trees, chirping birds, and the cricketing sound of insects. The sounds not only helped me to relax and think but it’s as if my problems are removed and solved because I am away from the city. At moments like this, I was able to forgive and forget and also think about my future plans in life. I was never able to do that in the city because I am constantly distracted by either technology or people.

As my job nears the end, I feel that the experience in the woods is what a true well-rounded, unregretting, and englightened life is. One cannot experience life without the simple basis of life.

~Tracey Weng is 17 years old and attends Malden HS.   She came to us through the Malden Youth Employment Program, and helped co-lead Babes in the Woods and Hike ‘n Seek this summer.