Preschool Explorers Pretend to be Raccoons Roaming at Sand Pond Woodlands

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

What a spectacular autumn Tuesday we had for Preschool Explorers with brilliant blue skies and abundant sunshine. Meeting at the trailhead of HCT’s 50-acre Sand Pond Woodlands, I shared our plans for the day, and we set off on the path.

We had only wandered a few steps in when we noticed a variety of brightly colored mushrooms worthy of a closer look. After handing each Explorer a magnifying lens, we gazed in awe at the fungi in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors including red, golden-brown, white, gray, and bright orange/yellow. Shifting our attention, we next examined bark and cloud-shaped lichens decorating the forest floor.

Explorers found their way to our reading mat and sat down for my reading of Raccoon Cubs by Ruth Owens and My First Animal Library: Raccoons by Martha E. H. Rustad. Together we chatted about raccoons’ diet and their unique characteristics including ringed tails, mask-like markings, and front paws that look like fingers.

After our stories we wandered over to the picnic table for our art project. Each Explorer was handed a sturdy piece of paper (recycled paper shopping bags), a long piece of yarn, crayons and markers. I shared photos of raccoon tails from North American Animals: Raccoons by Chris Bowman and Backyard Animals: Raccoons by Jennifer Hurtig. Art materials and creativity turned bags and yarn into colorful and imaginative raccoon tails that we tied around our waists!

Next, we admired the tracks and trail patterns of the raccoon found in Lynn Levine’s Mammal Tracks and Scat: Life-Size Pocket Guide and Ed Gray’s Track Pack Animal Tracks in Full Life Size. We wiggled our tails down the trail and found deer tracks! I circled the heart shaped mammal hoof print in the soft sand so everyone could have a peek. How thrilling to discover we were walking in the same space that a deer had recently visited!

We sat down by the river’s edge and gazed into the sparkling waters, appreciating the spectacular reflection of the clouds and blue sky across the surface. Pausing under the bright orange foliage of a tree growing alongside the river, we chatted about what might be living in and around this aquatic habitat. Searching for signs of our wild neighbors, we discovered otter scat and an otter slide on the river bank! 

As our search saunter continued, we found wintergreen, sweet fern fronds, and bayberry leaves and took turns breathing in the unique, fresh scents of each plant. Pausing in the woodlands, we stood silently to listen to the birds, the breeze, rustling leaves, and airplanes.

Upon venturing up a hill and over fallen logs, Explorers delighted in the discovery of mushrooms, making sure everyone got a chance to admire their find. A fallen tree transformed into nature’s playground providing a perfect makeshift balance beam.

After our obstacle course expedition, we sat on that fallen tree and settled in for another story: A Kissing Hand for Chester Raccoon by Audrey Penn. It was such a delight each time I glanced around and found curious preschoolers listening attentively while snuggled up with their caregivers in this beautiful sanctuary surrounded by trees painted in October’s artistic color palette.

Wandering further along the trail, a woodpecker announced its presence in the treetops by noisily hammering away in search of insects. Additional evidence of the woodpeckers was spotted down the path in the trees and snags peppered with little holes.

Squishing our feet down into the sandy path, we left evidence of our visit today in the form of tracks. What a wonderful morning of learning, laughing, sauntering, and savoring the beauty that surrounds us. 

Thank you for sharing your morning with me. I am already looking forward to our next adventure.

Happy Exploring.


Ms. Andrea