Reflections by Naturalist & Walk Leader Andrea Higgins
Photos courtesy of HCT Volunteer Photographer Gerry Beetham
October 11, 2022
Brilliant blue skies and temperatures in the mid-60s greeted the HCT Preschool Explorers and their caregivers this morning at the Sand Ponds Woodlands. This beautiful autumn day was made even sweeter by the bright, curious, and smiling youngsters ready for an adventure.
Sitting on a bed of soft pine-needles covering part of the path, I began our adventure with a reading of Wonder Walkers by Micha Archer. This Caldecott Honor book has wonderful, detailed collages and gives readers insights into the splendors of nature. The main characters are two curious children who embark together on a wonder walk, letting their imaginations soar as they look at the world in a whole new light. In the story, the children ask thought-provoking questions that my HCT Explorers answered out loud with knowing smiles. I couldn’t help but smile myself while watching their focused, curious faces listening to every word I read.
Becoming wonder walkers ourselves, I handed each Explorer a magnifying lens to aid our explorations and discoveries. Just a few steps down the path, we found acorns, mushrooms, pine needles, and leaves beginning to change color. A path of lichen reminded us of clouds, so very soft and spongy to the touch. We also discovered a lichen that looked like tiny cups, or mini bowls which is actually called cup lichen or pixie cup lichen (Cladonia pyxidata). The tiny cup-like structures were the exact size of our HCT Preschool Explorers’ fingertips.
Upon discovering a track in the sand, we took out our field guide and matched the dog-like print to the description of a coyote track. We chatted about animal signs including tracks, food, fur, and scat (the science word for poop), then decided to make tracks of our own in the soft sand near the coyote’s. Impressions of rain boots, sneakers, and hiking boots were left behind as we pressed our feet down in the sand.
Next, we settled onto the benches of a picnic table where I had bags of homemade playdough for each Explorer alongside double-sided stone stamps with woodland footprints including those of a fox, squirrel, rabbit, frog, deer, hawk, owl, and mouse. Each preschooler took turns pressing different stamps into bits of dough to create images of both the animal and their footprints or tracks.
The next reading of the day was Track That Scat, written by Lisa Morlock. It’s a precious story about a girl and her dog setting out on a hike and discovering lots of animal signs along the way.
White-tailed deer were our next learning subject as we chatted about their tracks, and I showed our curious HCT Explorers a real deer skull! Lots of square-shaped molars — perfect for chewing plants — were clearly visible in its mouth.
Next, it was time to learn about river otters. My learning tools included a mold of real otter tracks, a photo of an otter slide, and two stuffed animal otters. Draping a tape measure across the forest floor, I displayed the length of these fun-loving aquatic mammals, and we all took turns laying on the ground to see if we were as tall as an otter is long! Our Explorers requested that moms and Miss Andrea also participate in the length comparison. Continuing on, the trail guided us to the edge of the Herring River where we discovered otter scat!
We next went on a color walk and searched for the hues of the fall forest. Our sharp Explorers made great observations spotting white mushrooms, yellow ferns, red and orange leaves, and brown acorns. A welcome appearance from a garter snake was a fun additional discovery!
After climbing up a steep portion of the trail, we paused to rest and smell the wintergreen leaves – a lovely woodland ground cover growing in abundance at the Sand Pond Woodlands. We had time to run, run, run and get our zoomies out on the trail with mommas and grandmas joining in on the fun.
A felled tree, with the help of our creative imaginations, welcomed us to hop on and enjoy a “horseback ride” through the spectacular woodlands with views of the Herring River. After our pretend galivant, we walked quietly through the woods listening for birds. To our delight, we could hear the chirping of crickets as well. We enjoyed a final pause on our trek to inspect the holes left behind by a woodpecker in a pine snag.
We made our way back toward the parking lot as our wonder walk was coming to an end. Pausing to say thank you to the forest, we waved goodbye to the trees, the foxes, the coyotes, the crickets, the birds, the river otters, and all the other creatures making their home in the Sand Pond Woodlands.
Thank you HCT Explorers and families for making this glorious autumn day so special! Happy Exploring! I can hardly wait to see you for our next adventure on Tuesday, October 24th.
If you and your preschooler would like to get outside and learn with Ms. Andrea, please follow these links to sign up for a fall Preschool Explorers Club outing: