Field Trips

Winter in the Woods

Even when temperatures dip in winter, nature continues to provide rich content for our students' young minds to soak up. Our teachers come prepared with project ideas as well. Here's a sampling of what we've been up to:

As winter approached, the wildlife scurried about to store up food and prepare for the cold. Sadly, there was a noticeable uptick in roadkill. Dave found both a squirrel and rabbit that he brought in for our students to skin, roast, and eat.

They took a field trip to White Memorial in mid-December where they found a dead, very smelly garter snake in the water as well as a wasp nest.

With the arrival of snow, animal tracking was even more fun! There were lots of squirrel tracks.

A vole and a coyote.

Drew has been helping the boys bend frames to make their own snowshoes. First they tried on Drew's pair.

At Mohawk Mountain State Forest the boys found a cool shelter under the roots of a tree. Inside were some neat ice crystals emerging out of the ground.


And finally - good ol' fun in the snow. Introducing "Big John", the man-sized snowman. We are still searching for Silas buried under all that snow ;)

Oh Nuts!

Last year Elizabeth and our students harvested pounds upon pounds of acorns. After a lengthy leeching process, they ground the nuts into a fine flour that was used in many of their school-day recipes.  Fast forward one year to an impromptu visit from former-teacher Tim who told Elizabeth about a rare grove of chestnut trees in Sleeping Giant State Park, and off Elizabeth and her pupils went to Hamden to explore and harvest.

Exploring the chestnut grove at Sleeping Giant State Park. This grove of Asian and American chinquapin hybrid species was planted in the 1930s as a private, American Chestnut restoration project.

Collecting chestnuts


The spiky shells were a challeng to handle!

Shelling the chestnuts in preparation for roasting

Getting to know the distinctive leave shape of chestnut

Scoring the shell before roasting makes it easy to remove

The chestnut roasted beautifully in our open-fire bread baking oven


Ready to eat

Making chestnut paste

Chestnut weevil grub. There were lots of these little guys. In fact, between the mold and the grubs we only got about 15% edible nuts from our harvest. The students munched some of the grubs, too.


Catching Up and Saying Goodbye

Oh boy am I behind on posting cool photos from Tim. These are so much fun:

Kunsang and Silas testing out their homemade firestarters while making paper airplanes.

Tim is adding more bee hives to his collection this year, so he brought them in for a decorative paint job.

Tractor time with Brian while gardening.

Kunsang taking a reading break and making a tiny building.

Another hike to a Leatherman Cave followed by serious exploration of a vernal pool, complete with frog eggs.

Cutting and designing a die for a boardgame then playing.

These children are filled up with wonderment, curiosity, mindfulness, self-confidence, creativity, and resourcefulness. Their teachers are nothing short of amazing.

Sadly, Tim will be leaving us at the end of the year to accept full-time employment at Common Ground, and as I type this I find my eyes welling up. For three years he has shared his many unique gifts with our students. Together they have role-played, created adventure games, made hockey rinks and rolling cars, kept bees, hiked to remote corners of northwest CT, gardened, and so much more. Tim's gentle and steady presence has given our students both the space and support to make their own discoveries and to find their own joy. We wish him all the best. Common Ground is lucky to have him. Thank you, Tim.

Seeking Shelter

Shelters found, shelters built, shelters discovered then added to... these pictures can do the talking.

I'd Like to Be Under the Sea...

.... In an aquaponic garden in the shade. Octopus, aquaponic? While you are busy humming The Beatles song, let's get on with the cool stuff our EWL students have been up to.

Silas, Kunsang, and Grace have been trying their hands at aquaponics - a symbiotic marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water without soil). In essence, the fish waste provides nutrients for the plants which in turn filter the water for the fish. Meanwhile, naturally occurring bacteria growing in the gravel of the aquarium and in the growing medium of the plants will convert ammonia from the fish waste into nitrates for the plants while detoxifying the aquarium water for the fish. 

Guppies acquired during a field trip to Petco

The growing medium ready to go into the plant pots

The complete hydroponic system

Aquaponic systems are easily scalable, so while the EWL aquaponic garden utilizes a small aquarium tank and guppies from the pet store, you can create an aquaponic garden large enough to cultivate fish for eating, such as tilapia or catfish. You just have to supply fish food, and you get two crops - fresh fish and organic produce.

Success! Or so we thought. Then over the winter holiday, Grace and I exchanged texts.


Alas, the circle of life continues, and there is always learning in failure - two valuable lessons for all of us to experience first hand.