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.


Natural Science

kids education at the vernal pool
Vernal Pools: Unique Amphibian Nurseries

Spring • 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


Spring in the Dene

Spring • Grades: K-1, 2-4 • Length: 1 1/2 hours

Discover the signs of spring on our dene farm and the many tasks associated with this time of year. Students investigate Hildene’s vegetable gardens and greenhouse, learning why some plants are started in a greenhouse while others are started outdoors. They get their hands dirty, helping prepare gardens for planting and even find plants that have survived the winter and are now ready to harvest. In the animal barn, students interact with the new lambs and other animals, while also helping with their care and other chores. BIG IDEAS: Structure and Function; Cycles; Diversity; and Interdependence. NGSS

The Buzz on Honey Bees

Spring • Grades: K-2 &3-4 • Length: 1 1/2 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

Pond Critters

Grades: 1-2 & 3-4 • Length: 1 1/2 hours  

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

Curious About Curious Goats

Grades: K-2 & 3-4 • Length: 1 1/2 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


bumble bee
Bumble Bee Basics

Grades: 2 & 3-4 Length: 1 1/2 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


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

Grades: 2-5 • Length: 1 - 1 1/2 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: 1 - 1 1/2 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

Fall in the Dene with Randall cattle
Fall in the Dene

Grades: K-1 & 2-4 • Length: 1 1/2 hours 


Discover what is happening on our dene farm as the animals and gardens are prepared for winter. While students investigate Hildene’s vegetable gardens and greenhouse, they discover the strategies used by certain crops to allow them to survive all winter in the ground and then be harvested as delicious vegetables in the spring. Students also collect seeds from the gardens, helping to prepare the farm for the next growing season. Through interacting with Hildene’s farm animals and participating in chores, students learn about the many tasks that are done to ready the barn and the animals for winter. BIG IDEAS: Structure and Function; Cycles; Diversity; and Interdependence. NGSS

turkeys in the vermont
Wild & Wary: Vermont's Turkeys

Grades: K-2 & 3-4; Length: 1 1/2 hrs


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

mighty monarchs: educational programming at Hildene
Mighty Monarchs

Fall • Grades: K-3 • Length: 1 1/2 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 1/2 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


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

Grades: 5-12 • Length: 1 1/2 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 IDEA Historical Connections; Forces of Unity and Disunity & Nature of Conflict. STANDARDS


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

Grades: 6-8 • Length: 1 - 1 1/2 hours


During this live virtual program, students 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 in 1863. Students engage in activities relating to what it was like to travel and work on a Pullman car and actively participate in discussion 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