Preschool Explorers: Nature’s Treasures

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

HCT Preschool Explorers gathered on the last Tuesday of November at the Muddy Creek Headwaters Preserve. This very special 17-acre landscape has a wildflower meadow, woodlands, and shoreline on Muddy Creek that flows into Pleasant Bay. Under beautiful blue skies with large fluffy clouds and basking in the crisp fall air, we gathered donning our cozy coats and hats for another morning of fun, learning, and exploration.

We began with an art project overlooking the golden grasses of the wildflower meadow, framed by beautiful oaks and pines. We traced each Explorer on a large piece of cardboard, then decorated our outlines with leaves, lichen, bark, phragmites, sticks, and other treasures found on the property. Creativity, crayons, markers, glue, and foliage gave life to our forms, transforming our artwork into mystical nature beings.

The next stop along our journey was the bench at the edge of the meadow near the trail heading into the woodlands. Our first story of the day was If I Had a Little Dream by Nina Laden. Laden’s warm and lyrical picture book acknowledges and appreciates, through a child’s eyes, how fortunate we are to live in the world we do. Celebrating the wonders of the earth, this book is about the joy, love, and beauty that is part of each and every day.

Departing from the bench, we left the open space of the meadow and began down the forested path, feeling almost as though we were entering the woodlands through a portal. I handed each Explorer their own portable treasure box: a recycled egg carton adorned with their names, holding nature items that could be found around the Muddy Creek Headwaters Preserve. We carefully inspected the contents of our individual containers and found they held a variety of leaves from bushes, groundcover, and trees, plus pinecones, lichen, moss, a pebble, wintergreen berries, and an acorn.

Our Preschoolers were invited to go on a nature search and find each of the items in the box and add another — its match — to their collection. These curious Cape Cod kids could identify and name each and every item in their treasure boxes! Our search saunter led us to another bench where we sat with a view of the sparkling creek decorated with ducks and the sweet singing of nearby songbirds, plus the chatter of Kingbirds.

Time for another story in our outdoor classroom. I read Dear Little One, which is also by Nina Laden. This is one of my absolute favorite children’s books (I have written the author to let her know and shared that I read her beautiful book with our HCT Preschool Explorers as we discover these incredible preserved lands). This reassuring picture book is a celebration of the wonders of the world, and is all about the joy, love, and beauty that can be found every day. From flower treasures to the mystery of insects, this lyrical story encourages children to explore and have gratitude for the natural world. How precious that this story is written as an endearing love letter to the child and reader from Mother Nature.

Our thoughtful listeners and attentive searchers/collectors were ready to get moving and zoom, zoom, zoom! The paths in the woods became race tracks as preschoolers zipped along the trails, their voices and laughter echoing through the woods. The joy, energy, and curiosity youngsters bring with them to the woods, meadows, beaches, and everywhere else are such gifts. Children are born naturalists as they pause to notice and admire everything. They are the perfect teachers. Their mindfulness comes so naturally, showing by example how to savor and appreciate these wonderful spaces. I feel beyond fortunate to bask in these joyful moments with our HCT Preschool Explorers and their families and caregivers.

I am already so looking forward to our next meeting! Thank you for sharing Tuesday mornings with me.

Happy Exploring.

Smiles and gratitude,

Ms. Andrea