School Programs


"Children are our legacy" - that was the lens through which President Emeritus, Seth Bongartz, fostered Hildene's school programs. Today, and into the future, youth education at Hildene is at the very heart of our mission.

Our programs are designed to provide experiential and inquiry-based learning opportunities. Students explore big ideas, i.e., understandings that endure long after the details are forgotten. Programs span across our 412 acres which encompasses wetlands, streams, meadows, forests, ponds and vernal pools. Students practice skills such as asking relevant questions, making careful observations, communicating outcomes, and constructing evidence-based explanations. Next Generation Science Standards and Social Studies Standards are incorporated into all offerings.

COVID-19: Educators will follow protocols issued by schools.

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Natural Science

mighty monarchs: educational programming at Hildene
Mighty Monarchs

Grades: K-3 • Length: 1.5 hours
Monarchs are the only butterflies to migrate north and south each year, yet no single insect completes the round-trip journey.  Students explore the conservation of this butterfly, while learning about its habitat, life cycle and migration, including tagging and releasing a monarch. 

BIG IDEAS: Interdependence; Cycles; and Structure & Function. NGSS

Secrets of Seeds_Hildene Educational Programming
Secrets of Seeds

Grades: 1-2 & 3-4 • Length: 1.5 hours
How are animals, catapulting, and the forces of wind, water and gravity linked to seeds?  Students explore this and other questions during our investigations of seeds. Students examine how seeds are formed, identify the parts of a seed that grow into a new plant, and inspect selected seed bearing structures to look for evidence of how the seeds travel. 

BIG IDEAS: Interdependence; Cycles; Reproduction; and Structure and Function. NGSS

spider web hildene youth education program
Splendid Spiders

Grades: K-3 • Length 1 hour
In our gardens, forests, fields and homes, spiders can be found, quietly focused on their important ecological role - capturing and eating insects. Students observe live spiders and build model spiders from their observations, discover the process of spiders capturing prey in a web, and go on a guided hunt to observe spiders, webs and record observations. We also examine the life cycle of these terrestrial predators. 

BIG IDEAS: Interdependence; Cycles; and Structure and Function. NGSS

wetlands HILDENE FARM in the dene
Wetlands Are Working Lands

Grades: 3-5 • Length: 2 hours
Students investigate Hildene’s wetland to discover the indispensable properties and functions of these unique habitats. From a floating boardwalk that extends 600’ through the marsh, students assess the water quality based on the macroinvertebrate population, discover the characteristics of wetland soils, and examine the adaptations of wetland plants to further their understanding of the ecological importance of these ecosystems. 

BIG IDEAS: Interdependence; Systems; Diversity; and Structure and Function. NGSS

sheep at Hildene Farm in the dene
Sheep Sense

Grades: K-1 & 2-4 • Length 1.5 hours   
Students interact with the sheep at the dene animal barn while exploring their life cycle, anatomy, and behavior. In helping with chores, students gain an appreciation for the care that goes into these animals. The special characteristics of the sheep’s fiber is also investigated, and a fiber item is created by the students to take home. 

BIG IDEAS: Cycles; and Structure and Function. NGSS

Pond Critters

Grades: 1-2 & 3-4 • Length 1.5 hours   
OFFERED FALL & Spring 2023/24 
Pond dwelling critters are remarkable for their diversity of size, shape and adaptations for finding food, moving and breathing.  Students explore the pond critters in Hildene's pond to make observations and to identify how they are adapted to live in a watery world. Students also become familiar with the differences between the young and adult forms of their critters and build a pond food web. 

BIG IDEAS: Diversity; Interdependence; and Structure & Function. NGSS

The Buzz on Honey Bees

Grades: K-2 &3-4 • Length: 1.5 hours

Who’s who in the hive? How is honey made and how are flowers pollinated? Students will explore the world of honey bees with investigation, pantomime, and inspection of the bees in our observation hive. They also examine the bee’s design, life cycle, social structure and important role as a pollinator. 

BIG IDEAS: Interdependence; Cycles; and Function. NGSS

bumble bee
Bumble Bee Basics

Grades: 2 & 3-4 • Length: 1.5 hours

Gentle and fuzzy, everyone has watched a bumble bee buzzing between flowers in summer; but what about the rest of the year? How do bumble bees overwinter? Where do they raise brood in the spring? How do they fly in the fall when it is chilly or raining? Students discover the answers to these and other questions during this program. They examine the differences in color patterns between species, learn how to enhance pollinator habitat, and may observe queens in search of nest sites, workers foraging or new queens preparing for winter. 

BIG IDEAS: Interdependence; Cycles; Structure and Function. NGSS


turkeys in vermont hildene youth education programming
Wild & Wary: Vermont's Turkeys

Grades: K-2 & 3-4 • Length: 1.5 hrs
FALL 2023 & WINTER 2024
Unlike earlier times, the turkey we enjoy today isn’t a wild bird, but rather farm-raised. While tasty, the domestic turkey is not nearly as fascinating in behavior or development as its wild cousin. With interactive activities, students explore the history, habitat, life cycle and behavior of Vermont’s wild turkeys. 

BIG IDEAS: Interdependence; Cycles; and Change Over Time. NGSS

Black Capped Chickadee, Winter education
Winter Adaptations: Coping with the Cold

Grades: 2-5 • Length: 1.5 hours


Colder temperatures and shorter days bring about many changes in the world around us. Students explore forest life through observation and exploration to discover the ways plants and trees adapt to winter’s challenges. They also examine the familiar black-capped chickadee to discover its remarkable survival strategies and complex language of calls. Weather permitting, students take a close look at the unique designs of snowflakes and examine the processes that form them. 

BIG IDEAS: Structure and Function; Cycles; and InterdependenceNGSS

Under and Over the Snow, education program
Under and Over the Snow

Grades: 1-3 & 4-5 • Length: 2 hours


How do animals adapt to Vermont’s long cold winter? Through outdoor activities, students examine the survival strategies of animals in winter and learn basic track identification skills. They investigate prints and track patterns, learn to move like the mammals do, and practice their tracking skills in the woods nearby. 

BIG IDEAS: Structure and Function; and Place. NGSS

Streams: Life Beneath the Flow

Grades: 2-3 & 4-5 • Length: 1.5 hours


Students will explore the variety of habitats and interconnected web of animals and plants within a stream. They will catch and identify aquatic insects, build a river food web, and learn how insect life can teach us about a stream’s health. They will also discover important adaptations that are vital for life in these ever-changing ecosystems. 

BIG IDEAS: Interdependence; Systems; and Diversity. NGSS

Dinosaur Descendants: Egg-cellent Chickens

Grades: K-1 & 2-4 • Length: 1.5 hours


From producing food to cleaning up after other farm animals, chickens play an important role on the farm. While students interact with Hildene’s flock, they explore why chickens have a “crop” instead of teeth, how they communicate messages to each other, the 21-day cycle from egg to chick, and have fun observing the quirky behaviors of these creatures. 

BIG IDEAS: Cycles; and Structure and Function. NGSS

vernal ponds
Vernal Pools: Unique Amphibian Nurseries

Grades: 3-5 • Length: 2 hours 

With slides, investigation and observation of live animals, students discover the critical support vernal pools provide to certain amphibians. They examine the energy and nutrient source of these temporary pools, become familiar with some of the “obligate” vernal pool species and learn why these pools are called the “hatchery of the forest.” 

BIG IDEAS: Interdependence; and Systems. NGSS


Curious About Curious Goats

Grades: K-2 & 3-4 • Length: 1.5 hours 

Students interact with the does and kids at our goat dairy, while exploring the life cycle, adaptations and behavior of goats. Students also learn about the process of milking, feed the goats and help with other chores, as well as identify goat products. 

BIG IDEAS: Cycles; and Structure and Function. NGSS



Hollow Shcool
The Hollow School

Grades: 1-2 & 3-4 • Length: 1.5 hours


Under the guidance of a 19th century schoolteacher, students learn about going to school over 150 years ago. Our fully restored one-room schoolhouse provides the setting for students to experience the lessons and tasks of children in early Vermont schools. Our “school day” commences when the bell is rung. Role-playing 19th century scholars, students use reproduction texts, slates and quill pens for their lessons, which include memorization and recitation. They will also play old time games during the recess break. 

BIG IDEAS: Historical Connections. NGSS

Pullman Porters, Hildene education
Pullman Porters: Unsung Heroes, Former Slaves, Labor Organizers, Middle Class Citizens & Civil Rights Activists

Grades: 5-6 • Length: 2 hours
Our restored 1903 wooden Pullman car, Sunbeam, provides the setting for students to discover the critical role that Pullman porters played in giving rise to America’s black middle class, the formation of the black labor movement, and the momentum for the civil rights movement. This slice of history spans 100 years beginning with the Emancipation Proclamation. Students role-play what it was like to travel and work on a Pullman car, visit the mansion where Robert Lincoln conducted Pullman business when he was in Vermont, and participate in discussions about the porters’ enduring fight for social change and justice in America. 

BIG IDEAS: Historical Connections; Human Rights; Impact of Economic Systems; and Nature of Conflict. STANDARDS

Hildene, Robert & Mary's home
Windows To The Past

Grades: 5-12 • Length: 1.5 hours
Students take a tour of Hildene, built by presidential son Robert Lincoln and his wife Mary in 1905, to learn about the family and their lives at the turn of the century. Students also visit the exhibit The American Ideal: Abraham Lincoln and the Second Inaugural, which includes one of Lincoln’s stovepipe hats of which there are only three in existence. 

Robert Lincoln, a captain of industry, served as president of the Pullman Company from 1901 to 1911. Students learn about his Pullman career through a visit to our fully restored 1903 Pullman car, Sunbeam. The interpretive exhibit “Many Voices” focuses on the Pullman Company that built the cars; the privileged families and executives who travelled in them, and the Pullman porters who worked in them. The fourth voice is of those who visit the car and the conclusions they draw from the experience. 

BIG IDEAS: Historical Connections; Forces of Unity and Disunity & Nature of Conflict. STANDARDS

iconic photo of president abraham lincoln
Lincoln and the Telegraph: The Innovator with the Innovation

Grades 5-6 • Length: 1.5 hours
An innovator at heart, President Lincoln revolutionized the use of the telegraph during the Civil War. He used this new communications tool to gather information and assert his leadership to the front. Prior to Lincoln, rapid exchanges between the Commander-in-Chief and the generals in the field didn’t occur. Students learn about the critical role of the telegraph in the Civil War, use telegraphs to send and receive messages that are combined to reveal one of Lincoln’s most important decisions and then view related artifacts in our exhibit, The American Ideal: Abraham Lincoln and the Second Inaugural. 

BIG IDEAS: Historical Connections; Forces of Unity and Disunity and Nature of Conflict. STANDARDS

Historic Crafts

Grades 1-3, 4-6 • Length: 1 - 2 hours

In early America making crafts was an essential part of everyday life. To help students understand what it was like to live in earlier times, when so many things we take for granted did not exist, they make everyday household items like dipped candles or baskets. Broadening students’ appreciation of the early settler’s self-sufficiency, this program introduces each craft in an historical context. Choose from the list below the craft(s) you would like to do:

Dipped Candles • 1st-5th Grades • Length: 1 hr
Pierced-Tin, Candle Shades • 1st-5th Grades • Length: 1 hr
Cornhusk Dolls • 3rd-6th Grades• Length: 1.5 hrs
Basket Weaving • 5th-6th Grades • Length: 2 hrs

BIG IDEAS: Historical Connections; and Movements and Settlements. STANDARDS