Preschool Explorers: Tree Swallows, Butterflies, and Lily Pads at Cornelius Pond Woodlands

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

We enjoyed another beautiful Cape Cod spring morning during our Preschool Explorer Adventure at the lovely 15-acre Cornelius Pond Woodlands. The group huddled around Mass Audubon’s colorful Paddlers Guide to New England Ponds and Rivers to discuss the birds, plants, and animals we may find while exploring the woodlands and meadows that surround Cornelius Pond. Explorers identified turtles, frogs, great blue herons, red-winged blackbirds, butterflies, muskrats, hawks, and snakes in the illustrations.

We set out on the pine needle-covered trail surrounded by lush foliage and undergrowth, first taking note of the poison ivy growing on the edges of the trail, and leaving it be for our deer, bunny, and bird friends. Trees with leaves shaped like dinosaur footprints and mittens caught our attention and we enjoyed practicing its name aloud, “sassafras”. The small, deep crimson-pink flowers of the sheep laurel were in bloom and each child took turns gently caressing the blossoms as they admired the colors and patterns with curious glances.

Pausing in silence, we listened for the sounds of the forest. A gentle breeze whispered through the new spring leaves. An ovenbird repeated its refrain from its forest perch, with black spots on its chest, a white ring around its eye, and a black and orange striped crown. I shared with my Explorers that this warbler gets its name from the shape of its nest, which resembles a pizza oven.

Our meander brought us to a meadow where tree swallows flitted about, their acrobatic flight pattern holding our attention captive as preschoolers and grandparents alike watched in awe. Iridescent blue feathers shown bright in the sunshine. Birds peaked their heads out of the nest boxes and seemed to be watching us as we admired them.

Butterflies delicately dancing between flowers in the meadow caught our attention next. We saw several little wood satyrs – tiny brownish butterflies with wings spanning just 1.5 inches, and yellow rimmed black eyespots decorating the outer edges.

Finding our way to a bench with a stunning view of the pond, we chatted about what we could see, hear, and smell as we looked out across the glistening waters of the lily pad covered waters. I read Pond Circle by Betsy Franco, a wonderful and rhythmic story with rich paintings that capture the bold beauty of nature. How wonderful this moment was, reading in the woods with HCT Explorers under the canopy of new spring green leaves, surrounded by gentle breezes and bird song.

While I had my audience captive, still sitting together on the bench with their caregivers, I shared Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner. This fabulous book shares stories of the ponds and the animals that depend on them, including whirligig beetles, dragonflies, fish, turtles, red-winged blackbirds, osprey, otters, raccoons, mink, and more.

Our search saunter brought us to another bench down the path, where we shifted gears and pretended to go fishing with sticks that I distributed. As they sat on the bench with their “poles”, gazing across the pond, we made some more observations. Explorers and caregivers called out what they spotted, including, “Lily pads, a wood duck house, dragonflies, ripples on the water, different shades of blues, birds flying over the water, leaves of many shades of green, and pollen.”

Next up, I spread out a large blue mat for everyone to have a seat for our art project. I handed each young artist a large sheet of white construction paper, a cup with washable blue paint, and a sponge brush to design ponds. I passed out glue for Explorers to attach green construction paper cutouts shaped like lily pads and yellow tissue paper to make lilies. When the designs were completed, each preschooler had their own version of Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” to take home.

Once our art supplies were put away, our Explorers pretended the blue mat was a pond. They took turns swimming and jumping into the imaginary waters below.

We enjoyed the company of a few more wood satyr butterflies as they danced around us on our walk back towards the trailhead, artwork in hand and smiles on our faces.

Another wonderful Tuesday morning! I am already looking forward to our next adventure. See you next week.

Happy Exploring.


Ms. Andrea