Welcome to our new quarterly journal
The Wakefield Estate’s mission statement begins “The Mary M. B. Wakefield Charitable Trust promotes life-long participatory learning using the land and resources of the Wakefield estate.” The first edition of Dogwood Lane provides readers a deeper understanding of how we carry out this mission throughout the year, with a focus on three of the estate’s educational programs. We hope you will enjoy learning more about our work - and we’d love to hear what you think.
The Evolution of Our Signature
Outdoor Environmental Education Program
Polly Wakefield was an advocate for the environment and led local efforts to protect the land surrounding the Blue Hills area. She wanted the land she left - The Wakefield Estate - to be used for learning and engagement. Today, we use it as a living laboratory with which we carry on her wishes to “ re-establish the contact between people and the land.” At the heart of our environmental education is the work we do with young learners - grades K-5. This article delves more deeply into how the program evolved, why this initiative is needed, and provides anecdotal evidence from visiting educators about the importance of these experiences for their students.
After exploring the estate during a fall visit, elementary students return for a spring field trip, enabling them to compare the seasons' impact on plants and animals in their natural surroundings.
How the Program got started
When Polly Wakefield died in 2004, her Trustees convened a visioning session that gathered experts in the fields of preservation, education, museum studies, and key area contacts to discuss an appropriate use for the extraordinary treasure that was the Wakefield Estate, 22-acres of former farmland that had been in one family for eleven generations that provided a rich blend of formal gardens, successional woodlands, and natural features. It was quickly recognized that New England possessed an abundance of house museums far grander than this would ever become, but a dearth of publicly-accessible greenspace that could provide direct experience with nature and designed landscapes. Thus the mission of the organization was formed, to provide “participatory learning” experiences for all ages. Yet, with limited financial resources and established connections, it was deemed critical to pursue this goal through a network of collaborations. Fortunately for the organization, it quickly forged an important alliance with Milton Public School’s science director, Barbara Plonski, who instantly recognized how the resources of the estate could be powerful drivers for science education. After-school programs were developed that provided opportunities to explore nature, the pond and stream, time to play games, and enjoy “unstructured play.”
Nature journaling a nd art activities extend science learning by encouraging observation skills and unlocking creativity.
Around the same time, a movement to bring students outdoors was started in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) and with it, the “Boston Schoolyard Initiative,” which helped develop outdoor classrooms in many schools throughout the district. These schoolyard features were designed to support teaching and learning and provide a dose of nature just outside the school door. An emphasis was made to provide a progression of teaching science in a more realistic environment. The next logical step was to include real-world field experience. “This is where the Wakefield Estate experience comes into play,” remarked Luis Arroyo, Science Specialist at Nathan Hale School in Roxbury.

Over a decade ago, the Wakefield Estate’s Program Director Erica Max (whose role at the time was as Landscape Supervisor and Educational Coordinator) attended several training sessions in order for the estate to qualify for the Boston Youth Environmental Network’s “Get Out And Learn” funding initiative to pay for buses. Arroyo, the instructor at one of the sessions, visited the estate soon after and immediately saw the estate’s potential value to his students.
Nature close up can stir real wonder and lasting impressions.
When asked if he wanted to bring his third graders from the Charles Taylor School in Mattapan for a Wakefield Estate field experience, Arroyo remarked, “Yes, I’d like to bring my third graders… and my fourth and fifth graders - -I’d like to bring the whole school!” And he did, all five hundred students with the buses paid for by the GOAL (Get Out And Learn) grant the estate had received. Since the GOAL initiative ended in 2012, the Wakefield Charitable Trust has paid for the buses and the program in its entirety, asking schools to contribute in whatever way possible.
"The trips to the Wakefield Estate are always used as a reference for teaching back in the classroom. If I’m talking about water erosion and weathering I can remind students of the time we used the stream as a classroom," said Arroyo.
Arroyo continues, “The Wakefield Estate serves as an outdoor classroom in a real-world environment. Students are able to study a variety of organisms in different environments (various types of plants, crayfish, fish, snakes, birds, mammals, insects, and amphibians). These are concepts that are better taught outside the classroom.”

During one of those early visits, Max brought a school group from Roxbury down to a plush grassy area near the estate’s pond and asked the children to sit down so they could enjoy their lunch. Several of the children looked up at her with alarm and said, “I am not going to sit there – it’s dirty!” At that
Visiting students enjoy their lunch in the grassy area near the estate's pond and stream, followed by a bit of "free play."
moment, Max realized that some of the children had likely never sat on grass, and she recognized first-hand evidence of a nature disconnect.

Program Impact
Recent research cited in this article has found that “children spend (at least) twice as long looking at screens than playing outside" and are increasingly disconnected from the natural world just as “a growing mountain of research (accessible through Children & Nature Network’s Research Library ) is showing the massive extent nature can play in improving early childhood development and education.”

For many students, the Wakefield Estate provides a safe opportunity to explore the outdoors. As one teacher shared, “One reason why the Wakefield Estate is so important for my students is because they live in neighborhoods in Boston where it is not always safe for them to play outside. Some of them have never been hiking in a forest or digging in the mud alongside a pond. Catching a frog or crayfish from the pond and using a field guide to identify was always a highlight of our trip. As a teacher, I loved that we were encouraged to bring our science notebooks and record observations and experiences from the day.”

Through the estate's collaborative work with Arroyo, and dozens of other science specialists and classroom teachers, over 2000 elementary-age students spend a full school day on the grounds of the Wakefield Estate each year. Their visit consists of hands-on environmental learning activities that focus on life cycles of plants, animals and insects, both land and aquatic species, environmental literacy and stewardship. Emphasizing inquiry-based and exploratory/play learning activities, program staff works closely with BPS science specialists and classroom teachers to ensure that the field experience supports the BPS curriculum concepts and content.
future scientist
Students are encouraged to bring science notebooks and record observations and experiences from the day. "When we get back to the classroom, the kids can draw and write about everything they saw, and bring their studies on the topics full circle," shared one BPS Science Specialist.
Is this work having an impact? Current research is trying to quantify exactly that, as one expert, Cathy Jordon, PhD with Children & Nature Network remarked, “We don't have a lot of research on the contribution of lack of nature exposure on the development of emotional/behavioral issues in children, but we do know that children with such issues can benefit from nature contact, nature play and nature-based education.” This research confirms that getting kids "outside to learn" has instant ramifications, and the Wakefield Estate staff has witnessed that. Even more poignantly, our partner teachers have seen the impact on their students: 
“The Wakefield Estate field trips are one of the most valuable experiences of the school year for me and my students. This place is where science came alive for them! From the moment they stepped off the bus for each field trip they were filled with wonderings about the natural world," stated Holly Rosa, then a Science Specialist and now Assistant Director of Implementation K-12 Science, Technology & Engineering at Boston Public Schools . Rosa continued, "Each field trip is so thoughtfully planned out and tailored to meet the learning needs of my students. I remember one year my students were struggling with understanding what it was a decomposer actually did in an ecosystem. At the estate, we spent time walking along the Decomposer Trail identifying decomposers, discussing the effects of decomposers we were observing and asking questions about them. This was so helpful, but it wasn't truly apparent till a few months later when my students were talking about decomposers and they said, "wait, we saw mushrooms on the decomposer trail at the Wakefield!" These kinds of learning experiences stay with students, not for a year or a month, but for their whole lives.”
Click here for the rest of the story.
In our outdoor environmental education program, the Wakefield Estate has found that "tactile experience," such as holding the chicken, touching the frog or worm, or collecting leaves and seed pods, really helps the learning "stick."
Phenology with Thacher Montessori Adolescents
On a cool October afternoon, fourteen 7 th and 8 th grade students from Thacher Montessori ventured out into the landscape with data sheets and cameras in hand to record life cycle changes in our Cornus kousa dogwood collection. For the third year in a row, students have observed 25 kousa dogwood trees two to four times a month, recording seasonal changes that include bud break, flower bloom, fruit ripening and leaf drop. This information is entered into, Nature's Notebook , a national database used by scientists all over the world to understand "phenological changes" (lifecycle changes) in plants and animals and how they are being impacted by climate change. This platform engages young people in a real-world scientific study that can be viewed and analyzed on the Nature's Notebook platform as part of the National Phenology Network .

Because of our research and use of this platform, we have been approached by Cornell University to be a part of the study of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, an invasive pest that feeds on and kills native Hemlock trees. Students collect samples of the infected hemlocks to observe under the microscope and learn about life cycle traits of this aphid.
Hemlock Wolly Adelgid image1
Cottony egg sacks of Woolly Adelgid on a hemlock twig at the Wakefield Estate.
Our staff has observed that through these studies students become more connected with their
Varied bracts from several of the Cornus kousa being monitored by students in the phenology project.
surroundings and begin to comment on phenological changes in other plants and animals in the garden. Understanding the relationships that exist between organisms is extremely valuable in helping students grasp a sometimes intangible connection: the idea that species depend on each other for survival and these cycles are disrupted due to climate change.

We are currently working with Thacher Montessori students to create a labeled phenology trail of plants that can be observed by all visitors and students so that they may begin to see and understand the important connections between the life cycles of plants and animals.
Thacher Montessori students learning about dogwood fruit from landscape director, Debbie Merriam.
Photo courtesy of Patrick O'Connor
Understanding Our History:
 The Growing Legacy of Wakefield Fellows
As an organization dedicated to hands-on participatory learning, over the past ten years the Wakefield Estate has hosted a robust fellows program, employing graduate level college students to document and research the estate’s vast and varied collection of cultural objects. The Wakefield collections include fine art, furniture, books, jewelry, silver, decorative arts, clothing, paper documents, archaeological artifacts, plants and even a prized mineral collection. The collections represent the eclectic possessions of eleven generations of one interrelated family; items acquired and passed on to successive generations over three centuries. Students from many disciplines have worked under the supervision of experts in their respective fields to document and assess the historical value of these collections, often discovering rare, unique and valuable items.
Dr. Sara Belkin shows off one the "treasures unearthed." a metal toy horse.
Archaeology: Digging up the past to reveal the present
The 22 acres that make up the current Wakefield landscape are rich for their underground
collections. To unearth this collection, and how it informs our understanding of the estate’s inhabitants over 300 years, we designed the Wakefield Summer Archaeology Institute, a two-week summer institute for high school students as a hands-on introduction to the science of archaeology. For five consecutive years, we hired Sara Belkin, a PhD student at Boston University, to lead the summer program. Sara used the summer institute as a field school, teaching the
methods and practices of cultural archaeology to high school students. In return, she used the
findings from the excavations as the key source for her research into the inhabitants of the estate, which culminated in her PhD thesis. To read a preview of Sara's doctoral thesis, click here .
rebecca bertran
Rebecca Bertrand inspecting a Seymour wash basin
Furniture: Tracing the provenance of our Seymour collection
Early on in the initial assessment of our collections, we discovered that we possessed one of the
largest collections of Seymour furniture, made by Boston’s leading federal-era cabinetmakers John and Thomas Seymour. We asked ourselves, how did this prized set of furniture get into the family's collection? To help answer this question, we engaged Rebecca Bertrand, a student at the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture. Rebecca worked under the supervision of Robert Mussey, the preeminent authority on Seymour furniture, and together they discovered that certain pieces of the Seymour collection were owned by the widow of John Hancock. 
To read how the Seymour furniture came into the Wakefield collection, see Rebecca’s article published in Antiques and Fine Art here .

Archives: The Land-Use History of the Wakefield Estate
For the three centuries that preceded the current use of the Wakefield landscape, many generations of the property’s inhabitants derived their livelihoods using the land and its resources. From family farming, to a rural retreat, and on to a modern suburban garden estate of the late 20th century, land-use evolved to meet the needs and interests of its owners. Erin Doherty, a graduate student at Boston University in American Studies, sifted through several hundred years of paper documents to write The Davenport Estate: Land-Use, Agriculture and Architectural Display . You can read her graduate research paper here .
Opinion: Why It Matters
Like most parents I speak with today, I have watched my two kids grow up in the tech-savvy age of personal electronic devices, YouTube, texting, video games and a daily barrage of overt and subliminal messages that compel them to stay connected to their “devices." I have witnessed them become increasingly disconnected from the natural world, spending less time out-doors exploring the wonders of the universe, and more time in-doors, connected to any one of a number of electronic devices.

Much of the work we do at the Wakefield Estate is informed by Richard Louv's book "The Last Child in the Woods." In his book, Louv puts words to this phenomenon, or what he calls "nature deficit disorder:” the growing chasm between the natural world and children. It is a rare thing today when a 5th grader can distinguish a maple leaf from an oak leaf, or when a class of 4th graders is not afraid to sit on the grass. Because of the lack of access and opportunity, safety concerns, and the emphasis on electronic gadgetry, children today are growing up largely indoors; most children are more apt to see a close up of a salamander on a computer screen than in their back yard under a log.

The mission of the Mary M. B. Wakefield Charitable Trust is to promote life-long participatory learning
for all ages, using the land and resources of the Wakefield Estate as a living classroom. Our mission is really about creating a new generation of learners who are passionate about participating in learning — and inspiring them to touch, smell and experience the natural world around them. Each year we welcome some 2000 school children to the estate for a full day of outdoor, nature-based learning.

It's a wonderful thing to watch a 3rd grader who, after being terrified to sit on the grass here on his or her first visit to the estate, fall in love with being outdoors, of running in the freshly cut grass without their shoes, or staring down a bullfrog in the pond. These simple but so important experiences for young children provide the basis for a life-long appetite, curiosity and respect for the environment. I am inspired -- and indeed, more hopeful about our future -- when I see school-aged children become curious about the world that surrounds them and begin to comprehend the complexity of the natural world and their place in it. This is the generation that will be tasked with coming to terms with and finding solutions to the greatest challenge humanity has had to face: global climate change. Reconnecting kids to nature is the vitally important first step.
- Mark Smith, Executive Director
A direct and compelling headline