Preschool Explorers Meander Muddy Creek

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

Tuesday, June 7th, 2022

A dreamy, beautiful blue-sky morning with temperatures in the 70s and barely a cloud in sight welcomed our HCT Preschool Explorers to Muddy Creek Headwaters Preserve. We enjoyed a morning spent admiring the many habitats that can be discovered at this conservation destination.  

Preschool Explorers and their parents greeted each other with smiles and settled in on a bench with a wonderful view of the wildflower meadow. The meadow was filled with golden-yellow, blue, purple, and pink hues from flowers just starting to bloom, plus a combination of lovely grasses in rich amber-colors and shades of fresh spring green. Tree swallows darted about performing for us like acrobatic insectivores. 

Beatrice Was a Tree by Joyce Hesselberth was our first story of the day and the inspiration for today’s exploration. This imaginative and beautiful story written with a gentle sweetness is a great read-aloud that illuminates the importance of trees, teaching about tree anatomy and how trees change with the seasons. Many animals, birds, and insects also appear in the folk-art imagery throughout the pages of this inspiring story. The main character visualizes playing outside all night long after she turns into a tree. Her arms grow bark and leaves, transforming into branches that move with the breeze. Birds catch the morning sun in her branches, then squirrels appear, followed by caterpillars, deer, spiders, and owls. The tree sends roots to burrow into soil with earthworms, chipmunks, voles, and mice. Each page emphasizes how animals, birds, and insects use trees.

Inspired to discover what was living among the beautiful oaks and pines of Muddy Creek Headwaters Preserve, we started our search. We strolled over to our art project area where I had spread out a blanket and added crayons, markers, glue, brightly colored shoe strings, and paper to create owls that we could wear while wondering the trails (the wings are even moveable!). Preschool Explorers’ creativity was evident in their careful and methodical coloring, drawing, and designing of their wearable owl creations. Several owl picture books were available for inspiration, plus Preschool Explorers had ideas of their own creating “red owls”, “rainbow owls”, and other unique and original designs.

We began our ramble down the path, magnifying lenses in hand, pausing frequently to identify poison ivy along the edges of the trail. We admired ant holes and ant activity, investigating with our lenses to get a closer look. Gently, we touched the lichen and delighted in its soft spongy feel this morning in contrast to other touches when it felt brittle and dry.

Friends found nature writing instruments (sticks) and started drawing and designing art right on the trail. We made letters and hearts and birds among other designs on the path. Next, we had an opportunity to run, run, run and get our “zoomies” and zippiness released. So wonderful to have the laughter and energy of children filling the beautiful spaces of the sanctuary.

A caterpillar dangling by an invisible web over the trail invited us to make observations about the way they moved. We spent time admiring their “sticky feeling feet”, the way they arched their body when moving, and the brilliant camouflage pattern it was wearing. Taking turns, each Explorer gently held and watched the caterpillar’s climbing skills as it crawled up our arms and on our hands.

We followed the bends and curves in the path until we got closer to Muddy Creek where I had pots, pans, spoons, loaf tins, and plates waiting for Preschoolers to create a nature kitchen. Our Explorers got busy finding ingredients for their culinary creations. Soups were made from mud, pine cones, twigs, and leaves. It was such fun watching friends find items to add to the pans and pots. Pinecones were balanced on spoons and offered as “snacks”. After our outdoor creative cooking session was complete, it was time to “wash the dishes” – simply returning twigs, mud, leaves and pinecones back to the ground (all chores should be this simple and delightful).

Our sauntering continued to the meadow edge where I used the insect/butterfly net to gently sweep the grass and share an inventory of my findings with curious children waiting with viewers and containers in hand. Sitting back on the bench we carefully investigated the contents of the net and admired spiders, bright green insects, and a small iridescent emerald green beetle-type bug.

Maisy Goes on a Nature Walk by Lucy Cousins was our last story of the morning. This precious narrative celebrates the wonders of nature and exploring the outdoors with friends. In the story, friends look closely at ants and caterpillars using lenses to get a better look… just like we did!

A perfect Cape Cod spring day shared with a curious and wonderful group. Thank you for sharing the morning with me. I look forward to seeing you next week.

Happy Exploring.

Ms. Andrea