Reflections by Naturalist & Walk Leader Andrea Higgins
Photos by Halley Steinmetz
Abundant sunshine and breezy blue skies greeted our Preschool Explorers at the Coy’s Brook Woodlands this morning. I stood in the parking lot waiting excitedly, dressed in waders for today’s vernal pool adventure as smiling faces pulled into the parking lot.
Curious and enthusiastic adventurers followed along down the leaf littered trail towards the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp and vernal pool. Some preschoolers bounded while others sauntered, all delighted to be in each other’s company. We gathered around a station at the base of the trail containing swimming creatures that sparked our sense of awe and wonder!
Caddisfly larvae hid inside camouflaged protective cases, constructed out of vegetation and other materials found in the pool. We identified two caddisfly larvae species based on the style of their protective cases: log-cabin caddisfly glue leafy debris together in a cabin-like shape and cigar-tube caddisfly create a home made from leaves and leaf pieces styled into a tube resembling a cigar. Explorers and caregivers alike were in awe watching one of the caddisfly larvae emerge from its protective home to wiggle about the tray.
The backswimmer and water boatman are small, semi-flattened aquatic bugs that maneuvered about the tray with long, oar-like hind legs. Water mites, amphipods, and isopods kept us intrigued as we watched them flit and wiggle about in the observation tray. Preschool Explorers gently scooped up the vernal pool creatures to get a better look with magnifying lenses. It was absolutely wonderful to hear 2, 3, and 4-year olds describe what they were viewing to their caregivers (Dad, Nana, and Mom).
After balancing on a log to cross a puddle, we ventured to our next area of discovery in the stunningly beautiful Atlantic White Cedar Swamp. Individual trays, spoons, viewers, and lenses were filled with leaf litter gathered from the vernal pool. Explorers sifted through wet and decaying leaves in search of the pool’s insect and animal inhabitants.
After packing up our living lab we joyfully meandered the trails to an area with lots of fallen trees, a perfect place to sit and listen to a story. We read the beautifully illustrated book The Secret Pool by Kimberly Ridley and illustrated by Rebekah Raye. This sweet and informative story introduces readers to the wonders right underfoot. The voice of a vernal pool shares its secrets through the seasons, discussing its inhabitants and the crucial role these small wetlands play in maintaining a healthy environment.
Next, we held hands in a circle to pretend we were a vernal pool, growing larger with snow melt and spring rain, and getting smaller as summer temperatures evaporated the water in the pool.
Today’s art project involved designing yellow spotted salamanders. Each salamander has its own unique pattern and our preschoolers created artistic ecosystems, habitats and pattern designs. Afterwards, some preschoolers explored the area by skipping, running, and climbing on fallen trees while others sat in the sunshine and looked at the Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Massachusetts by MassWildlife and the Peterson First Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians by Conant, Stebbins, and Collins. Salamander Sky by Katy Farber and Big Night for Salamanders by Sarah Lamstien we also perused.
Wishing a Happy Spring to my Preschool Explorers! Listen for the Wood frogs and Spring Peepers and keep observing the many signs of spring.
If you know of families with youngsters aged 2-5 who would like to join Preschool Explorers on Tuesday mornings, they can find details and reserve by clicking here.