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Parent, Caregiver, and Instructor Info


Information for families

Welcome to 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!

Click on these categories to navigate down the page to those sections.

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.  The instructors will offer opportunities to encourage scientific 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 always have fun nature activities 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 present the children with the following Rules for Kindness:

  • No exclusionary behavior. With few exceptions, if a child asks another child if they can play together, the expected 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 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 must leave them for the pollinators to find!


Before you check the “REQUIRED WAIVER & RELEASE” button, please carefully review the following combined liability, first aid & CPR, and photo permission waiver upon dropping off your child.  Please note any special needs in the online registration form. Please have your immunization and signed medical records form available to upload.

WAIVER LINK -> waiver for web – 2019.

If your 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.

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!

Pick-up and drop-off for Forest Kindergarten and Forest Explorers will take place at the picnic table just outside the Botume House, 4 Woodland Road, Stoneham.  PLEASE PARK AT THE BOATING IN BOSTON SITE — you can now park down the middle of the lot!  We will have staff on site to direct you, but you need to park laterally down the center strip.  See Boating_in_Boston_Parking_Map PDF.

DCR requires families to park at the nearby Boating in Boston site (see Google map and Boating_in_Boston_Parking_Map PDF) just a quick shortcut away from the Botume House site. As needed there is limited short-term parking in front of the MWRA pump station (see PDF). Our instructors will be out helping to facilitate traffic flow and parking.

2019 Update – Pick-up and drop-off for Forest Adventurers will conveniently take place at DCR Flynn Rink at 300 Elm Street in Medford, one mile down the road from the Botume House. Here is a link to the Flynn Rink Parking area: Flynn Parking Map.

Summer: Please make sure your child has had sunscreen and bug repellent applied when they arrive in the morning (see also Tick Update and Being Outdoors). Kindly make sure that your child has used the bathroom before you drop them off.  NOTE: This year the Friends of the Fells has added a portable restroom at the Tudor Barn — just for summer youth programs.

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

  • Backpack
  • Snack (no peanuts or nut-based foods and no snack-sharing – for allergy reasons)
    • Lunch (all-day students only) is also nut-free – make sure you pack enough for a possible 2nd small snack
  • 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) – please note weather conditions and dress accordingly
  • If it is cold, put an extra pair of gloves or mittens in their backpack (or their jacket pockets)
  • Boots, 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.  We have these on hand, as well.

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!

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 some simple tick prevention tips (providing DEET and DEET-free options).

Our forest instructors have been trained to avoid these common potential hazards, and more safety information can be found in the 2015 Trail Adopters handbook, for adult volunteers in 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.

*** Click to download 1-page “Tick Update” PDF ***

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.

 Click to enlarge

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.


Here are the photos and bios of our wonderful 2019 instructors:

2019 – Paula Jordan is a nature educator who has been working with children and families for over 20 years in a variety of settings.  It was seeing how much fun her young son had in nature that started her journey. In addition to being a nature educator, she has been in a kids band, teaches children’s yoga and has been working on farms for the past 10 years. This year she started the Nature Studies Certificate Program at Antioch University with a special focus on nature equity, and anti-bias work. When she is not teaching she is bird watching, bug watching, swimming and playing outdoors with her 4 year old grand-daughter. She is excited to be spending the summer in the forest with your children.
2019 Andrew Coate has been working with children for over 20 years in rural, urban, and summer camp environments with children from six weeks old up to high school seniors. He has extensive experience working with individuals with developmental and physical disabilities and is passionate about making nature accessible to all. Andrew received his B.A. in Human Ecology from the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine – across the street from Acadia National Park. After moving to Boston for a Master’s program Andrew spent a summer leading a trail conservation crew composed of high school students on the Cape Cod National Seashore with the Student Conservation Association. He believes every child can benefit from minimally structured outdoor play and is excited to help children have an experience where they can grow more confident in their natural environment while making discoveries about themselves and the world. Andrew lives on the North Shore with his partner Sarah and their two amazing kids.
2019 Kieran Adams is excited to join the 2019 Forest Instructors team. He currently attends Medford High School as a rising senior. There he is a part of M3 Outdoor Adventures, a club that focuses on exploring and experiencing a wide array of what nature has to offer. Throughout the school year he walks through the Fells on a daily basis to reach his school. He runs varsity Cross-Country, Indoor Track, and Outdoor Track and loves to explore new paths and areas of the Fells. He has volunteered in working with kids in Panama and Puerto Rico. He is very excited to join the team this year for a great summer!

Kelli Hanson is thrilled to be returning for a fourth summer to Forest Kindergarten in 2019. A resident of Arlington, 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.

[Click to read Kelli’s recent blog about her Forest Kindergarten experience here.]
   2019 Returning for his third year with the Friends of the Fells after his first year at American University, Erik Lam began his experience with Friends of the Fells by participating in the 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. He has always been one of our top talents.

2019 A recent Medford High School graduate with outstanding academic skills on her way to UMass-Lowell, Mina Lam also got her start with Students of the Fells.  In addition Mina has volunteered on the Friends of the Fells’ highly popular “Fall for the Fells” trail race and family fun fest, working on nature scavenger hunts with the children.  She has also participated in a 4-hour Eagle Eye Institution Hike-a-Thon / Clean-Up effort and has helped to create bog bridges along Medford High School’s 0.9-mile “Mustang Trail” in the Fells. Her outstanding photography last year of students in our program was featured in the Wicked Local newspapers. [See slideshow.]

2019 Violet Neff is a dedicated educator, with ten years of experience working with young learners. She has recently graduated cum laude from Green Mountain College with a B.S. in elementary education, and will become a licensed elementary teacher next year. Since January, Violet has enjoyed a position as the building substitute teacher at Columbus Elementary School in Medford. Given her extensive background in teaching and childcare, experience gained from her time at her environmentally-focused college, and her passions for nature, music, and art, Violet feels excited and ready for her first summer with the Friends of the Fells. She is especially looking forward to bringing her travel guitar along this summer, and hopes that many young friends will join her in adding joyful voices to the chorus of the Fells!

2019 Since joining us for his first summer in 2018, Jesse MacDonald, a Malden native and a Brown University graduate with a degree in Education and Developmental studies, was promoted to year-round Operations Associate with Friends of the Fells.  Jesse has nearly 15 years’ experience in education- both in and out of the classroom.  As a teacher and tutor in both the Malden schools and Providence schools, Jesse has worked with children (and adults!) of all ages and backgrounds.  Jesse is also an experienced education researcher, having contributed to research projects at both Brown and Harvard.  Most recently, he worked with a number of kindergarten classes in the Boston schools as part of a research team exploring the academic benefits of early education programs.  In past summers, Jesse developed programs focused on outdoor leadership and experiential education, environmental sciences, and engineering and other STEM subjects.  Jesse has also led outdoor trips across the Northeast, was the program manager for the Brown Outdoor Leadership Training program, and in his personal life is an avid camper, backpacker, and kayaker! He will be serving as trainer and mentor to the team this year.

2019 Returning back for a third year after a summer off, Carolyn Ryan is excited to be back with Friends of the Fells. The Fells feel like home to her, as she are up right down the street and has fond memories hiking with her family. Carolyn’s background is in Wildlife Ecology, with a degree from the University of Maine, and Environmental Education, a degree in progress at Bard College, and she loves working with children and helping them to come to love the natural world. When she’s not spending her time at the Fells, Carolyn enjoys hiking and spends most of her weekends in the White Mountains of NH.

2019 – Sophia White is an upcoming sophomore at Champlain College in Vermont, aiming for her bachelor’s degree in Game Art and Animation, and she is excited to join the Friends of the Fells as a forest instructor! She previously worked at the Melrose Public Library for almost four years in the children’s section, and has always wanted an opportunity to work with children in an outdoor setting. She has been hiking in the Fells since she was a child, and in her free time enjoys being outside, reading, and making art.
2019 – Calvin has been exploring the Fells woods his entire life, whether it’s hiking, boating, or mountain biking with his family and friends. He has been a teaching assistant to middle schoolers as well as a member of Students of the Fells, and he is also a certified lifeguard, having worked for the YMCA of Metro North. He has also been awarded numerous academic scholarships, including the John & Abigail Adams Award for High Academic Achievement on the MCAS Exams, the Mark C. Peavey Memorial Scholarship, a Stanley Z. Koplik Certificate of Mastery Award, and an AP Scholar.  He currently studies Video Game Design at Champlain College.  Welcome Calvin!
Kayla Awiszus is very excited to join in as a counselor! During her time as a student at Westfield State where she studied Elementary Education, she was a member of the Outdoor Adventure Program. Currently pursuing her graduate degree in Special Education at Salem, she has found herself exploring more of the wilderness along the North Shore, especially camping in Cape Ann. As a lifelong resident of Stoneham, Kayla is thrilled to help out at something as great as Friends of the Fells.

 Additional support provided by:

Gillian Badwan (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!

Stacy Kilb (DCR Park Interpreter)

Stacy also works with the DCR at the Botume House Visitor Center in Stoneham. She runs the Junior Rangers program as well as numerous other great programs for children and nature lovers of all ages. Whenever possible, our programs try to take advantage of her great knowledge base.

Katie Pluskey (Junior Counselor, Fells Camp)

Katie Pluskey joined us this year as a Junior Counselor. She is a rising 10th grader at Melrose High School. Having spent six summers at camp in New Hampshire, she decided that this year she would like to work with young children to share her love of the outdoors. Katie enjoys photographing nature when she is hiking, and has a few favorite spots in New England. When she is not outdoors, Katie sings with the Boston Children’s Chorus and, in school, she is a member of the Model UN where she as attended two international conferences. Katie loves working with the children and hopes to return next summer.

(We do, too!)


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