Preschool Explorers: Migration, Hibernation, and Adaptation

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

HCT Preschool Explorers welcomed winter on December 20th at the beautiful Sand Pond Woodlands. These 80 acres of quiet woodlands nestled between the Herring River and Sand Pond made for a beautiful setting for today’s lesson on hibernation, migration, and adaptation.

The leading activity for the day involved a search saunter seeking out seven books I placed along the trail for a story walk. Our first book was Animals in Fall Preparing for Winter by Martha E. H. Rustad. This story explains that some animals travel south to warmer climates while others go to sleep or change their appearances to survive the winter season. For example, whales, butterflies, and geese migrate while snakes and bears hibernate. Snowshoe hares have adapted so that their fur changes color from brown to white to blend in with the snow and evade detection from predators.

After reading this first story, one of our precious Explorers pretended to be a butterfly on migration, smiling while flapping her “wings” as we rambled down the trails to find our next book. Animals in Winter by Jenny Fretland VanVoorst was propped up on the picnic table waiting to share its vibrant photos and engaging text with more fun facts about how animals survive chilly weather conditions. 

After we set back on the path for more discovery, one preschooler began crawling which created a unique set of prints for us to practice tracking. We followed their tracks until we found them curled up on the path, preparing for hibernation.

The soft pine-needle-covered trail led us to more wonderful stories including When it Starts to Snow by Phyllis Gershator and Animals in Winter by Martha E. H. Rustad. We sat in nature’s living room on furniture created from stumps, fallen logs, and the cozy, comfortable moss-covered forest floor to listen to the stories, ask questions, and share facts about animals preparing for the winter.

Our joyful Explorers strolled and sauntered, ran and climbed, or skipped and crawled their way down the trails. Some explorers, cozy in their caregivers’ arms, gazed at the treetops and the skies discovering beautiful sights and sounds as we walked in the woods parallel to the winding Herring River.

Our next storybook was found beside a fallen pine tree. This significantly sized tree became a pretend train and I called out to our Explorers “All aboard, all aboard! Everybody at the station! It’s time for winter hibernation.” Our preschoolers climbed aboard and hunkered down to listen to Hibernation Station by Michelle Meadows. This sweet rhyming text delights as it introduces the different types of hibernating animals on the train as they snuggled into sleep including chipmunks, bears, snakes, groundhogs, frogs, turtles, mice, and bats.

Once the story was complete, we left our tree train to continue our journey. We discovered scat along the way (our mamas are becoming quite the wildlife trackers) belonging to coyote, horse, and possibly a fisher! Awesome to find evidence of who is living and/or wandering through the Sand Pond Woodlands. A perfectly placed bench with lovely views of cattails, golden grasses, and views of the river was the location of our next story, Little Owl’s Snow by Divya Srinivasan, a precious book with adorable illustrations and poetic text.

Back on the trail to our imagination station! I gave each Explorer their own container of Cloud Snow made with unbleached all-purpose flour and mineral oil (baby oil). This was a wonderful sensory activity as we formed snowballs and snowpeople, then crumpled it again to its soft, snowy texture. Preschoolers created winter scenes with their snow and used cut hemlock branches, pinecones, lichen, pine needles, mosses, and sticks to enhance their winter wonderlands. I brought out some animal track stamps to create tracks in the “snow”.

After lots of fun with our art project, we wiggled our way back down the path. We had time to get our zoomies out by running down the trails pretending to be animals moving through the woods. We huddled up together for one last story: Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner. This is a beautifully written and illustrated book filled with info about how animals survive in the winter. I loved sitting on the ground together, our HCT Explorers listening to each word, pointing out pictures and asking questions.

I lastly shared an at-home activity including a drawing of a woodland scene with a pond, a log, a lodge, a tree, and burrows and the question: “Where do animals go in winter?” Our Explorers can add in animals to each habitat after having learned all about animals’ hibernation, migration, and adaptation today.

Thank you for sharing another terrific Tuesday morning with me.

Happy Exploring! Enjoy the holidays and happy solstice. 


Ms. Andrea