Preschool Explorers: From Acorn to Oak Tree

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

On this beautiful blue-sky Tuesday, our Preschool Explorers gathered at the Lee Baldwin Memorial Woodlands. Lee was a well-known Cape Cod naturalist and HCT Trustee who inspired others with her walks, presentations, and writings. HCT published a book of her nature essays titled “Cape Cod at Three Miles an Hour: A sense of place that can only be learned on foot.”

This Harwich Conservation Trust property is home to a red maple swamp, abundant oaks and pine trees, and a short boardwalk with a bench. Another perfect setting for youngsters to learn and play while discovering the gifts of Harwich woodlands.

Excited for our meeting, I set up loads of children’s books about autumn, leaves, and trees on the bench and prepared our art project for our junior adventurers’ arrival. Smiling Preschool Explorers were ready to discover a new HCT preserve!

While plodding along the boardwalk, we admired leaves in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. Settling in on the bench, we started our morning by making nature jewelry. Everyone picked out hemp cord and oak cookies (slices of oak branches with two holes drilled in each slice) and decided if we would like to make necklaces, bracelets, or both. A pattern of concentric circles decorated the oak rings revealing its age and lichen and unique bark textures adorned the outer edge of each disk. Mamas and Explorers all wore our creations – who needs Tiffany and Cartier when you can wear oak and hemp!

Our creativity continued as Explorers, with assistance from caregivers, drew a tree inside a recycled cardboard box using markers and crayons. Unique trees stood tall on canvases with strong trunks, outstretched branches, and hollows for animal homes. Stickers of acorns and squirrels were strategically placed in the hollows, on the forest floor, and in the treetops of the drawings.

Next up, I read A Grand Old Tree by Mary Newell DePalma. This wonderful story describes the life cycle of a grand old tree, highlighting a trees’ growth, maturation, and changes through the seasons. When the tree dies, it becomes a home to animals before eventually returning to the Earth. This book is a lovely way to learn about the life cycle of trees, their connection to animals and role in habitats, and introduce the concept of seasons and weather.

I next read Acorn to Oak Tree by Lisa M. Herrington. This book, through vivid photos and simple, engaging nonfiction text introduces young readers to the life cycle of a mighty oak tree. It shows how this stunning addition to our landscape starts out as a simple acorn.

Time to have a search saunter! Explorers were curious as I handed out small paper bags with handles and we headed out on the path. As we collected leaves from both black and white oaks, we chatted about the differences in both the leaves and the bark of these beautiful strong trees. After discovering acorns with teeth marks, we learned about the creatures who might have been doing the nibbling.

Bags were filled with leaves of different colors, shapes, and sizes by the time we were satisfied with our search. Revisiting our artwork, we placed the leaves on the top of our trees. As the days are growing shorter and colder with winds blowing stronger, the leaves fall off the trees. Small hands holding paint brushes gently moved some of the leaves toward the bottom of their art creations to reflect this change. As we discussed winter’s imminent arrival, Explorers moved all the remaining leaves toward the bottom frame of their trees, before swooping them back into the branches to illustrate the return of spring and summer. Our artists had the option of gluing the leaves to their scene or leaving them loose so they could once again play the season game.

Heading back on the path, we looked for grand old trees with deep-running roots and arms reaching high. Thousands of leaves crunched under our feet along the way. One grand old tree that had fallen down had fungus growing on and around it. We examined the holes left behind from bird beaks searching for bugs to eat alongside insect trails in the bark. We found small shoots and stems pushing up from acorns underground and admired giant red and burgundy leaves that had unfolded on the shoots. A child-led exploration brought us down leaf covered trails to swamps, bridges, and peaceful woodlands.

Time to gather our artwork with oak cookie jewels dangling from our necks and wrists and smiles stretched across our faces. Back to the parking area we went to say farewell ’till next week. I am already so looking forward to our next adventure!

Happy Exploring!

Smiles and admiration,

Ms. Andrea