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Activities: Forest Detectives

Updated: Mar 28, 2021

Build Your Own Mini Stone Wall

ages 5 - 12

Try building your own mini stone wall with natural materials. Bonus: add a little house for a fairy homestead!

Here are some tips from the old wall builders of New England:

  • Walls aren't built by putting one stone on top of the other. They are built by putting two stones on top of one and one stone on top of two. (You never want your seems to line up).

  • Put your larger stones on the bottom and use the smaller stones to fill in the gaps.

  • Digging a shallow trench before laying your wall will help it to be sturdier.

  • If you have many small rocks, first build two sturdy walls on the outside with larger stones, then fill in the middle with smaller stones.

Do you think your wall could hold up through a winter? Would it succeed at keep farm animals in? Which stones did you put on the top and bottom? Did the substrate you were building on affect the sturdiness of your wall? Which methods were most successful?


Reading the Stonewalls Around You

ages 6 - adult (with adult supervision)

The stone walls around our landscape have unique histories to tell us. Find a stone wall around your home (or visit Knights Hill) and follow a stone wall. There may be many that you had previously looked past! Use what you learned from yesterday's videos to "read" the story of the stone wall. Look below for some questions to get you thinking about your stone wall's history.

Are the stones small, large, or of mixed sizes?

  • small or mixed: land was used for crops and had to be tilled every year

  • large: land was used for pasture or hay field

Is the land on one side of the wall level with the top?

  • the side that is level with the top was tilled and used for crop production. (This will only happen if the land is on a hill).

Is the land on either side of the wall free of rocks?

  • No rocks visible: the land was likely used as crop land.

  • Many larger rock: visible: the land was likely pasture land.

  • Some small rocks visible: land may have been used for hay fields.

Does the land on either side of the wall have pillows or cradles?

  • Yes: the land has never been plowed (woodlot), or has not been plowed in a long time.

  • No: the land has been plowed up until the current trees in the forest were allowed to grow.

How large is the stone wall enclosure?

  • small: may have been used as a small animal holding pen

  • medium: may have been a garden plot

  • large: pasture land or hay field


Map Your Stone Walls

ages 8 - adult

Mapping stone walls can reveal some interesting patterns in the landscape. Try mapping the ones in your own patch or forest or visit the ones at Knights Hill! To get a head start, visit the NH Stone Wall Mapper at This map uses Lidar data to roughly map out some stone walls in New Hampshire.


  1. Grab a pencil and paper or print out a satellite image of the property you are looking at.

  2. Begin exploring and walking the stone walls. *** ALWAYS be on the lookout for poison ivy and abandoned wells around stone walls and home foundations***

  3. Roughly sketch in where they are on the piece of paper or printed map.

  4. Add notes such as the size of the rocks or any other artifacts you may find.

  5. Look for the shapes that are made and begin to imagine what the land would have looked like just after these walls were made.


Write a Story from a Different Perspective

ages 7 - 16

The landscape hasn't always looked like it does today. As I talked about in the video yesterday, New England has gone from a massive mountain range, to covered in ice, to lived on and altered by Native Americas, to farmed by settlers. Choose an object or place (I've included some possible options below) and write a short autobiography from the life of that object. This autobiography may span hundreds or even millions of years! What changes have you seen in your "lifetime"?

  • boulder

  • field stone

  • tree

  • a patch of forest or field near your home

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