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Forest Camp – Information for Parents and Caregivers

Additional Information for Campers, Parents, and Caregivers

Welcome to Summer Forest Camp in the Middlesex Fells!  This information is designed to familiarize families with the essentials of attending our outdoor programming:  what your child should pack, our approach to outdoor safety, and what you and your child should expect from their camp session.

To read about our new COVID-19 guidelines for attending campers and families, and our preparations for a safe and rewarding camp experience this year, please read our new
Week Prior Message to Camp Families page.

Current Camp Families:  Download the EEC Daily Screening Protocol sheet here

To register, visit our main Fells Forest Camp page or click on the link below that corresponds to your child’s age:




We are looking forward to an exciting season of learning and exploring together!

[View our 2020 FOREST CAMP FLYER]


New for 2020:  All Fells Forest Camp registrants for our Summer 2020 sessions will now receive a complimentary “Family”-level Friends of the Fells membership (new or renewal)!  See our Membership section below for more information!

General Information

All forest program activities are customized to address the age, aptitude, and interest of participants. We take shelter indoors in the case of heavy rain or lightning, but children otherwise spend the entire time outdoors exploring the trails of the Fells, Spot Pond, and the adjacent forest.  This place-based, rain-or-shine approach to education lets children connect meaningfully with our shared environment.

Sessions for summer are generally capped at ten (10) children per day and canceled if they have fewer than four (4) children enrolled. Two (2) instructors will be present with students at all times.  While occasionally we might host sessions with more than ten children, we strive to maintain our competitive 1:5 ratio of instructors to campers at all times.

We love to include your child or children’s images in our resources to support our educational and charitable mission.  A media release form is included in our 2020 combined liability, first aid, and photo waiver.  If you do not wish for your child or children’s likeness to be used, please contact us at  Thank you!

Rules for Children

Our instructors will utilize positive reinforcement to help children build respect for themselves, their peers, and for every living thing they encounter in the forest.  To help them build this respect as well as effective communication skills, social skills, and empathy, we will present the children with the following Rules for Kindness:

  • No hitting, grabbing, pushing, or name-calling.  Our programming has a zero tolerance policy for this type of behavior.
  • Share and take turns.  No one monopolizes a game, an activity, or any natural treasures to be found in the Fells.
  • Communicate and collaborate.  Our sharing policy includes all of our planning, ideas, activities, and time in a group.  We do not allow any exclusionary behavior.
  • Respect all wildlife.  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 must leave them for the pollinators to find!
  • Share our outdoor spaces.  The Fells is ‘The People’s Forest,’ and our camp activities will share space with hikers, bikers, explorers, and other youth groups.  We will be considerate of other Fells visitors and allow them to enjoy the Fells alongside us!

Summer Supplies

Each morning of camp, before activities begin, please make sure your child has had sunscreen and bug repellent applied (see also Tick Update and Being Outdoors). Kindly make sure that your child has used the bathroom before you drop them off.  Restroom access is available at our camp-only portable restroom at our drop-off location, and inside of Medford High School (accessed only when necessary), but bathroom trips throughout the day take children out of the forest and can detract from our programming time.

Please make sure that he or she brings the following items each day:

  • Backpack (preferably well-fitting and with 2 shoulder straps)
  • Snack (no peanuts or nut-based foods and no snack-sharing – for allergy reasons)
    • All-day students:  Lunch (also nut-free); a second snack is also strongly recommended
  • Water bottle, labeled with child’s name
  • Rain jacket
  • Rain pants (strongly recommended, as we will remain outdoors even in rain showers)
  • Change of clothes (or quick-dry outfits) – please note weather conditions and dress accordingly
  • Extra sunscreen and bug repellent
  • Boots, shoes, or sandals that are waterproof, or can get wet– the children will be encouraged to hike through puddles and play in the mud whenever possible.  And on especially hot days, there will be a sprinkler set up outside of the Botume House for the campers to play in.


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.  We have limited quantities of these on hand, as well.

What not to bring:  electronics, “commercial” toys, items of value, fragile items, and items that can be ruined by rain.

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 around Flynn Rink.

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!

The Earth Loom

In addition to the trail activity at this site, every group will have the opportunity to spend some time working on the innovative Earth Loom project.

The Earth Loom (also known as a Story Loom) is a wooden structure that allows our students to create tapestries out of found natural materials collected in the Fells.  Campers across multiple sessions will share in the construction of these weavings, creating unique and beautiful pieces of natural art.

Many thanks to the Medford Vocational Technical High School’s carpentry department for assistance in construction of the Earth Loom, and to the National Coalition for Education & Cultural Programs (NCECP) and the Stoneham Business and Community Foundation (SBCEF) for their generous underwriting of this unique peace-building tool which combines elements of art, community, and nature appreciation.


Outdoor Safety

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

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 cases of emergency or stormy conditions, the children will be brought inside the DCR’s Botume House, Flynn Rink concession area, or the Tudor Barn to wait with instructors until the weather passes, or parents pick them up.

Ticks, Mosquitoes, and Poison Ivy

Ticks, mosquitoes, and poison ivy are all present in the Fells, and it is likely that children will come into contact with at least one of these concerns.  Our forest instructors are trained to avoid these common outdoor hazards as much as possible, and are instructed on proper treatment in cases of potential exposure.  However, parental prevention is key.

Ticks, mosquitoes, and other biting insects are a common outdoor concern.  Please make sure to apply bug repellent on your child each day before dropping him or her off at any forest programming.

We also strongly recommend performing a tick check on your child at the end of each day.  Ticks can be tiny, so look for dark “specs” the size of poppy seeds or larger in the following places:

  • Inside and behind the ears
  • Along the hairline
  • On the back of the 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 some simple tick prevention tips (providing DEET and DEET-free options):

More safety information can be found in the 2015 Trail Adopters handbook, a guide for adult volunteers of the Friends of the Fells who maintain trails deep in the woods:

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. 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 – Poison ivy grows throughout the Fells, and is ubiquitous in the areas that we will frequent for camp activities.  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.

Proper clothing is the best means of preventing poison ivy exposure.  Closed-toe sneakers or boots, long socks, or long pants will prevent most minor contact with poison ivy from resulting in skin contact while walking through the woods.

The image below provides some useful mnemonic devices to help identify poison ivy:

Click to enlarge

In our outdoor programming, we find taking care to wash the affected area with either cleansing wipes or soap and water immediately after contact helps prevent most reactions.  Poison ivy oils are also very sticky and tenacious, and can affect individuals many days after exposure by sticking to clothing.  It is recommended that parents change their children’s clothing soon after their camp session, and wash these clothes as frequently as possible.

In case of exposure, see a step-by step DIY on treating poison ivy rashes on Wikihow.



Note – The plant pictured above, jewelweed or touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis), often grows in the same places as poison ivy and can be an effective natural antidote, so it is worth becoming familiar with. The orange flowers make jewelweed 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 jewelweed is a common folk remedy, which dates back to native American medicine [J. Wilderness Medicine].


Read the bios of our Fells Forest Camp management and leadership staff:

Kelli Hanson will return this year for her fifth summer as a Forest Instructor, and her second year as lead instructor. A resident of Arlington, Kelli has a B.A. in early care and education from UMass Amherst and works as a Special Education Teaching Assistant during the school year. 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.

[Read Kelli’s blog about her Forest Kindergarten experience]

Jesse MacDonald, a Malden native and a Brown University graduate with a degree in Education and Developmental studies, is the Friends of the Fells Operations Associate and co-leader of Fells Forest Camp.

Jesse has over 15 years of experience in education- both in and out of the classroom.  As a teacher and tutor in both the Malden and Providence schools, Jesse has worked with individuals of all ages and backgrounds.  Jesse is also an experienced education researcher, having contributed to research projects at both Brown and Harvard.  In past years, Jesse developed programs focused on outdoor leadership and experiential education, environmental sciences, and other STEM subjects.  Jesse has also led outdoor trips across the Northeast, was program manager for the Brown Outdoor Leadership Training program, and in his personal life is an avid camper, backpacker, and kayaker.

Executive Director Chris Redfern brings more than a decade of experience in nature-based, experiential education program management to the Fells Forest Camp.  In his position as the director of the San Diego Audubon, Chris crafted educational curricula to deliver outdoor science education, classroom programs, and ecology-focused field trips to thousands of San Diego students.

In 13 years at Audubon, Chris grew a mostly all-volunteer organization to a dynamic and respected local conservation nonprofit. He developed partnerships with other nonprofits, local government, state agencies, federal agencies, and other funders to protect endangered species, improve and expand habitat for wildlife, and promote regional conservation.

Additional support provided by:

Gillian Lay (DCR Park Supervisor)

Gillian works with the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), managing the Middlesex Fells Reservation as well as an occasional 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!

DCR Park Interpreter Staff

Educational Resources and References

Outdoor Education Associations:

The American Forest Kindergarten Association

Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools

Association for Experiential Education

The Natural Start Alliance

The Forest School Association UK

Children and Nature Network

North American Association for Environmental Education


Why our children need to get outside and engage with nature.”  John Henley, The Guardian, August 2010.

Connecting With Nature Boosts Creativity and Health.” 

Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature.”  Danielle Cohen,  Child Mind Institute.

Get Kids Outdoors to Improve Mental and Physical Well-being.”  Constance Scharff, Ph.D., Psychology Today, February 2018.

Getting back to the great outdoors.” Amy Novotney, Monitor on Psychology, Vol 39, No. 3, March 2008.

Forest Kindergartens: A Multicultural Perspective.”  Samantha Leder, Natural Start Alliance, April 2018.

From Fear to Freedom: Risk and Learning in a Forest School (Voices).”  Heather B. Taylor, Young Children, Vol. 74, No. 2, May 2019.

At ‘Nature Preschools,’ Classes Are Outdoors.”  Julie Depenbrock, Education Week, January 2017.

Camping 101 Fights Nature-Deficit Disorder.”  Erik Tormoen, Outside Magazine, October 2013.

Children and Nature‐Deficit Disorder.”  Martha Driessnack, Ph.D, Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing, January 2009.


School’s Out:  Lessons from a Forest Kindergarten.  2013, Linden Tree Films production.  Lisa Molmot, Director.  School’s Out on IMDb.


Saving Kids from ‘Nature Deficit Disorder.’  Interview with author Richard Louv, NPR Morning Edition, May 25, 2005.

Academic/Other Resources:

Friending Fresh Air: Connecting Kids to Nature in the Digital Age.”  Be Out There Initiative, National Wildlife Federation, 2013.

Gray, Peter, (2007).  Nature’s Powerful Tutors:  The Educative Functions of Free Play and Exploration.  Eye On Psi Chi.

Beer, T., Cook, A., Kantor, K., (2018). Running Wild: Engaging and empowering future custodians of place through creative nature-based play. Journal of Public Pedagogies.

Amicone, G., Petruccelli, I., De Dominicis, S., Gherardini, A., Costantino, V., Perucchini, P., Bonaiuto, M., (2018). Green breaks: The restorative effect of the school environment’s green areas on children’s cognitive performance. Frontiers in Psychology, 9

Ernst, J., Burcak, F., (2019). Young children’s contributions to sustainability: The influence of nature play on curiosity, executive function skills, creative thinking, and resilience. Sustainability, 11(15).

Norwood, M.F., Lakhani, A., Fullagar, S., Maujean, A., Downes, M., Byrne, J., Stewart, A., Barber, B., Kendall, E., (2019). A narrative and systematic review of the behavioural, cognitive and emotional effects of passive nature exposure on young people: Evidence for prescribing change. Landscape and Urban Planning, 189, 71-79.

Sando, O.J., (2019). The outdoor environment and children’s health: A multilevel approach. International Journal of Play, 8(1), 39-52.

Feldman, Jay, (2001).  The Moral Behavior of Children and Adolescents at a Democratic School.  Presentation at the 82nd American Educational Research Association Meeting.

Coates, J.K. and Pimlott‐Wilson, H. (2019), Learning while playing: Children’s Forest School experiences in the UK.  British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 45, No. 1, 45: 21-40.

More Friends of the Fells Links

Read Our Past Forest Camp Blogs:

Forest Instructors:  Mother Nature’s Support Staff
Believing in Fairies…the Magic of Forest Kindergarten
Engaging children in learning:  Forest Kindergarten vs. Traditional Classroom Teaching

Become a Summer Instructor
We are seeking passionate, knowledgeable, and reliable individuals as 2020 Fells Forest Camp instructors:   Work for Friends of the Fells this summer!

Babes in the Woods/Hike and Seek
If you child is not yet ready for our week-long summer programming, we also offer free programming for younger children and their families on Tuesdays throughout the year.  These events can be found on our Friends of the Fells events calendar:

  • Babes in the Woods (~age 0-2)
  • Hike ‘n’ Seek (~age 2- 4)

More information can be found on our dedicated website and Facebook pages (pre-registration is encouraged).

School and Scout Group information.

Join Us!

All the work of the Friends of the Fells is the result of the generosity of our volunteers, members, and donors:


UPDATE:  All 2020 Fells Forest Camp registrants will now receive a complimentary one year of family-level Friends membership (new or renewal)– a $40 value!  Confirmation/sign-in instructions for your member account will be emailed within a few days of registration.

As a member of the Friends of the Middlesex Fells Reservation, you will receive a Fells trail map, a ‘Fells Fox’ car decal, free admission to select events, and our monthly newsletter. You will also support our mission of sharing the woods with the children of the community. We offer a number of membership levels– annual, monthly, and lifetime.

To find out whether your membership is current, or to edit your account, visit our Member Log-In page.
To become a member without camp registration, visit our Join page.

Donate:  In addition to supporting our mission, your generosity helps to pay for our programming, scholarships, and financial aid for others.  Please donate here to support us — just $25 goes a long way towards providing environmental education opportunities for all.

Volunteer:  Our work would not be possible without the time and energy of our dedicated volunteer community.  We have a wide variety of volunteer opportunities occurring throughout the year– find a volunteer opportunity that is a fit for you!


Questions? Contact us at or (781) 662-2340.