Preschool Explorers Discover a Vernal Pool Party at Lee Baldwin Memorial Woodlands

Reflections by Naturalist & Walk Leader Andrea Higgins
Photos courtesy of HCT Volunteer Photographer Gerry Beetham

We had another glorious morning on Tuesday, April 4th for our HCT Preschool Explorers adventure! The 5-acre Lee Baldwin Memorial Woodlands was the perfect setting, with a brilliant blue-sky and temperatures in the high 50s. Lee was a Trustee of the Harwich Conservation Trust and a well-known Cape Cod naturalist who inspired countless people with her walks, presentations, and writings. Sweet, smiling faces arrived and the day became even brighter as each child added an additional ray of sunshine to my morning!

We set off down the boardwalk to a bench overlooking a red maple swamp with a stand of Atlantic white cedars towering in background. Explorers sat together on the bench, curious faces looking up at me as I chatted about vernal pools and read one of my favorite springtime children’s books The Secret Pool by Kimberly Ridley with illustrations by Rebekah Raye. Filled with poetic text and informative fun facts, this wonderful book delightfully captures the dramatic, mysterious, and magical world of vernal pools. The illustrations depict the stories of yellow spotted salamanders, wood frogs, fairy shrimp, snakes, bull frogs, turtles, woodland mammals, and more! My precious young audience was captivated.

Peering out over the shimmering waters on the forest floor, we made observations of our own! Explorers shared that they saw “water”, “moss”, “leaves”, and “trees”.

So curious about the wonders of nature all around us, we set out for an adventure. Sauntering down the narrow, winding, pine needle and oak leaf-covered path, we gathered at a wider portion of the trail to explore our senses. Hands on brows, we gazed upward and admired the white fluffy clouds slowly drifting by. Brilliant pine needles at the tops of the tallest trees stood out beautifully against the bluest blue sky. Our group noticed swelling buds on trees and a big fuzzy bumble bee buzzing by. During a moment of stillness, we listened to the sweet melodies of songbirds and spring peepers serenading us.

Continuing along the woodland path, the forest echoed with the chatting and sweet laughter from our crew. Our excursion brought us to a fallen tree on the trail, a perfect place to gather for another story. I invited our Explorers to take a seat on the log as I read Tadpole to Frog, a Read-About Science book by Lisa M. Herrington. Through vivid photos and simple, engaging text, this fun and fact-filled science book introduces young readers to the life cycle of a frog, teaching how a tiny tadpole turns into an amazing amphibian. What a sweet sight to see preschoolers sitting together on a log, listening to a story in the woods on a spectacular spring day on beautiful Cape Cod!

Steps away from our reading log, I set up a science station so our preschoolers could become junior field biologists! Time to conduct research, collect observations, and analyze data… Explorer-style! Magnifying lenses and viewers, spoons, trays, cups, and vernal pool field guides lay stretched out on the forest floor waiting for curious minds to find critters! I placed leaf litter that I scooped up from the vernal pool into a tray for us to sift through, searching for worms burrowing in the leaves, crawling invertebrates, swimming creatures, egg masses, dragonfly nymphs, and more. Explorers had loads of fun pouring water in and out of the cups and spoons, playing with leaves, and carefully sorting. Some exciting discoveries included a mosquito larva and a camouflaged isopod crawling through the wet leaves. Great finds!

I brought out a diagram of a water strider and shared some interesting facts about this cool invertebrate that skates across the surface of vernal pools. I pointed out the water strider’s head, thorax, abdomen, mouth, eyes, antennae, and six legs. Who could resist singing our insect song? Not me! With the assistance of an incredibly wonderful and enthusiastic mama we sang our HCT Preschool Explorer insect tune to our busy field biologists.

Next, I shared an exciting discovery that I had made earlier – a yellow spotted salamander egg mass! I admired how gently our young field biologists held and touched this vernal pool find. What a gift to see their expressions of wonder and delight. Explorers helped clean up the lab so we could return our leaves and creatures (found and unfound) back to the shimmering vernal pool from which they came.

Wonder wanderers rambled down the trails back to where we started for our art project. Each Explorer received a canvas and construction paper cutouts to practice our colors and shapes: we glued our yellow circle sun to the canvas, then the blue oval vernal pool, and lastly the green triangle tree. I also handed out homemade playdough to each of our Explorers and caregivers so they could create vernal pool creatures to add to their Ecosystem Art. One mom and daughter molded an isopod out of the dough and used pine needles for insect legs… brilliant! Other creations included frogs, birds, waterfalls, and even Ms. Andrea’s head – so silly! Markers were used to add color to the playdough and to draw tree trunks, bark, owls, and holes in trees.

HCT adventurers left my company with smiles on their faces and artwork in hand, having made some grand discoveries today. I was left with a happy heart, grateful for these preserved spaces and fun memories.

Thank you, Explorers and caregivers, for sharing this wonderful Tuesday morning with me. I am so looking forward to next week when our adventures continue.

Happy Exploring.

Ms. Andrea