Preschool Explorers: Marshes, Muskrats, and Crabs

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

Harwich Conservation Trust’s Preschool Explorers met by the footbridge at Bell’s Neck Conservation Lands on Tuesday, November 15th, 2022 under the bluest of skies. Nature gifted us with abundant sunshine and barely a puff of wind for our gathering. Spirited Explorers were excited to discover this new spot for our adventures.

One of our Explorers finds bridges to be particularly intriguing, so I was looking forward to seeing their expression walking over both a foot bridge and a car bridge today. 

We set out on the trail and paused along the side of the marsh to enjoy stunning views of the Herring River. The sky was mirrored in the river creating the illusion that white fluffy clouds were floating in the gently flowing waters. Explorers shared what they could see as they glanced across the expansive marsh. They delightfully exclaimed, “muck, mud, trees, a river, a pond, birds, blue sky, the sun, the moon!” When I asked these youngsters to share what they could smell, they paused and sniffed before announcing, “I can smell mud, salt, water, leaves, sunshine, the marsh, the ocean, and grass!”

Sauntering to the foot bridge, sweet faces peered out over the waters. I asked Explorers to stay on the bridge with their caregivers so they could get a good view of what I was thrilled to show them… deer tracks in the marsh along the river’s edge!

We continued our search saunter and admired the tremendously beautiful colors of the marsh, sky, and surrounding woodlands. Just a few steps into the woods along the path, we discovered evidence of rabbits gnawing and nibbling. Explorers examined the clean-cut stems and woody plants, especially the brier.

Cozying up on some rocks and a fallen log, we settled into nature’s living room furniture for our first story. Marshes & Swamps by Gail Gibbons is an eye-catching, kid-friendly exploration of marshes, swamps, and the plants and animals that thrive there. Each page turned and every word read brought our Explorers closer and closer until we were all gathered in a snug circle pointing to the images in the book, especially the drawings of the animals that call the marsh and surrounding woodlands home.

Time to search for animal sign. We noticed lots of birdhouses in the snags, tracks of muskrat in the squishy marsh mud, and found nibble marks on the leaves of some of the marsh plants.

We sat down again among the wintergreen for another story. As preschoolers sniffed the minty plant with delight they listened to North American Animals: Muskrats by Al Albertson. Explorers learned loads of muskrat facts: these large (about a foot long), round, and furry rodents make their home in wetlands, they have small eyes and ears and long scaly tails to help steer while swimming (they can even swim backwards!), and they can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes!

After our story session, these adventure-driven Explorers were ready to roam and continue discovering. Bright green mosses caught our attention and required a closer glance… time to use our magnifying lenses! Next, a huge pile of rock and stone dust beaconed Explorers to climb. Mamas joined right in on the fun!

Our search saunter brought us to the car bridge on Bell’s Neck Road and we admired the view. A sign attached to the bridge taught us about blue crabs, their harvesting regulations, and how to tell the difference between a male and female. I brought out the book The World of Ocean Animals: Crabs by Bizzy Harris so we could admire the beautiful photos and enjoy fascinating crab facts.

As we were appreciating the views of the winding Herring River, searching for birds and animal life, the Environmental Police drove across the bridge. The officer rolled down his window to say hello and I introduced myself and our group of HCT Explorers. I asked the officer if he would be so kind as to explain to our kiddos about his job and the role of an EPO. After sharing his job description with us he gave each Explorer a Junior Massachusetts Environmental Police Badge and a shiny gold EP badge sticker!

Feeling especially excited with our badges in hand, we strolled back down the trail to create some art. I handed each Explorer a large blank canvas to create their own marsh scene and they got right to work. These weekly creative art projects are serious business for our youngsters! Markers and crayons and construction paper were put into action and soon those blank canvases were home to rivers, marsh plants, muskrats, animal tracks, footbridges, birds, mud, muck, crabs, and more!  

Thank you for your energy and creativity, Explorers. And thank you for your kindness and curiosity – you are rays of sunshine and hope.

I look forward to next week’s experience together.

Happy Exploring.

Smiles from Ms. Andrea.