Notes from the Naturalist Week 32:The Nature Preschool at HCMA

Can you imagine the surprise on my face this morning when I pulled up to the Slim Baker parking lot and was greeted by a log truck and a large excavator! Oh my! We quickly pulled together our “Plan B” and back down to HCMA I went. But before I left, as I waited for the last few families to arrive and instruct them on our new plan, I was serenaded by the lovely songs of birds (with the excavator humming away in the background!). In comparison to last week, it is quite evident that many more birds have arrived from their long journey from afar.

I am not sure if it’s the new subject of study or just the sweet presence of birds, but the children were so excited to dive into this new unit. Several children kept talking and asking about different birds….oh how my heart burst with excitement to hear their EXCITEMENT. We talked about “Birding” and using a pair of binoculars to seek out the birds we hear. We read a cute book on “word phrases” that we as humans interpret from that what we hear in a bird’s song or call. And we talked about the different types of songs, calls and nests.

As the birds migrate north they are in search of the perfect nesting habitat while also in search of areas with an abundance of insects and plants. Once the season changes and food drops off, they will once again migrate south to warmer climates. “Migrating birds can cover thousands of miles in their annual travels, often traveling the same course year after year with little deviation. First-year birds often make their very first migration on their own. Somehow they can find their winter home despite never having seen it before, and return the following spring to where they were born.”

“The secrets of their amazing navigational skills aren’t fully understood, partly because birds combine several different types of senses when they navigate. Birds can get compass information from the sun, the stars, and by sensing the earth’s magnetic field. They also get information from the position of the setting sun and from landmarks seen during the day. There’s even evidence that sense of smell plays a role, at least for homing pigeons.” –

Before heading back down to HCMA, I recorded a short video on the birds that I heard. In the clip you can hear a Yellow Warbler and an Oven Bird. Many more were singing their hearts out but with the hum of the excavator it was hard to decipher who was out there. For many of us as we learn to recognize the birds around us, we first learn their song, followed by physical identification. I taught myself by listening to Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs CD set. My personal favorite bird guide is The Sibley Guide to Bird Identification but you could use any book that you feel works best for you and your family. There are also many great apps out there as well and Audubon has one that is fantastic. The app will give you an instant opportunity to dial in what and who you are hearing.

The silly book we read today is titled “Bird Talk” by Ann Jonas. She writes, “based on words used by the people who study birds to help us hear and remember birds songs, the words they use are called Memory Phrases”. Remember I told you I heard an Oven Bird and a Yellow Warbler. The memory phrase for Oven Bird is: Teacher-Teacher-Teacher (rising in pitch each time). And the memory phrase for Yellow Wrabler is: sweet, sweet, sweet, little more sweet. For more information on birds and to listen to bird songs and calls visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at: I must warn you that you may become addicted to birding, it’s a fun activity to do in the woods!


Little Pioneers Nature Playgroup - Friday June 2nd and June 9th


Little Pioneers Nature Playgroup offers parents, caregivers, and children ages 18 months to age 5, an opportunity to play outside and discover the sights, sounds, and sensations of the forest and fields at the Slim Baker Area.  Engaging with nature's seasonal offerings stimulates curiosity and a sense of wonder while fostering self confidence and empathy for all living things.  Join us for 1.5 hours of spontaneous play, exploration, and discovery.

A spring, pilot, schedule will run on Friday June 2nd and June 9th.  It is our hope to continue these nature immersion playgroups next fall.

Meet at the meeting area by the fire pit at 9:30.  Come dressed to explore!


Notes from the Naturalist: Week 31 Nature Preschool at HCMA

Mud, mud, mud, glorious mud! We found it, rolled in it, kicked it around and just could not walk away from it! Let me be very clear: we are never disappointed by what we find up here on Little Round Top. The mud today brought a chorus of singing from happy children. Some rowed their boats while sitting in the mud, some kicked it around and others just stomped in it. And you all know what we did today by the bags of dirty clothing that came home. We wouldn’t change that play for a minute. Yes, its work, its dirty but it fulfills each child in a different way that other play cannot replace.

“Scientists have now confirmed something that children have always instinctively known; playing in mud is a joyful experience. Recent research has shown that dirt contains microscopic bacteria called Mycobacterium Vaccae which stimulates the immune system and increases the levels of serotonin in our brains, an endorphin that soothes, calms, and helps us to relax. Scientists say regular exposure to the bacteria may help reduce a child’s vulnerability to depression. In short, playing in mud makes you happier!”

“Mud play is inclusive of all children. It allows children to play at their own developmental level. Mud is an open ended material that meets the diverse needs and interests of different children. Younger or less skilled children might focus on the sensory experience whereas older children may have more specific goals in mind for their mud play. Some children may thoroughly enjoy the sensation of mud between their toes while others are only comfortable poking a finger into the mud. Allow children to explore the mud at their own comfort level. With mud, there is something for everyone and there are no wrong answers.” -

We also did a little “collecting” today. I will refrain from the details (Mother’s Day is coming….)! Watching each child take to the task at hand was very interesting. Some children raced through the activity to move on to play while others were completely absorbed in the activity. One child spent over thirty minutes inspecting and gathering. This child was full on in concentration mode and would not be budged to play. Can you imagine the level of engagement this child felt?

After our collecting we took a walk down to the gathering area. All around us we could see Canada May Flower (Maianthemum canadense). It is close to blooming and will soon have several white flowers branching off from its stock. One of the first spring flowers we will see but soon many more will be popping up. We also noticed Starry False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina stellate) just starting to come up. The wildflower search in New England can be so much fun! But if you really want to know where to find a certain species in our area, get your hands on a copy of the NH Soil Survey for Grafton County. Once you know the soil type, you can then start your search for that hard to find flower – like Dutchman’s Breeches! For more information on New Hampshire Wildflowers check out this link:


Notes from the Naturalist Week 30: Nature Preschool at HCMA

It is always hard to come back after vacation. In recognition of easing back into the work of the child, we made a special treat. Bread! Homemade bread, by hand or by machine is the quintessential welcoming of comfort and love. Who does not love the smell of a fresh baked loaf wafting through the air as you open the door? And on top of a rainy, damp day….bread…warm and welcoming!

Each child took turns as we looked over our Maple and Oat recipe. We may not be lucky enough to have a working kitchen stove, but let’s face it, a bread machine will do just fine. So with each ingredient measured out, one by one the children helped to create their very first loaf of bread at Nature Preschool. Remember how we talk so much about Place-Based Learning? Within Place-Based Learning is also the importance of our connections to the land, the idea, the teachings that surround us as we learn about the land, its history and culture from which it is based. And so, in baking bread, we made a special connection, a memory, that ties each and every one of us to this place perched on the side of Little Round Top Mountain.

“Bread, in all its various forms, is the most widely consumed food in the world. Not only is it an important source of carbohydrates, it’s also portable and compact, which helps to explain why it has been an integral part of our diet for thousands of years. In fact, recent scholarship suggests humans started baking bread at least 30,000 years ago.”

“Prehistoric man had already been making gruel from water and grains, so it was a small jump to starting cooking this mixture into a solid by frying it on stones. A 2010 study by the National Academy of Sciences discovered traces of starch (likely from the roots of cattails and ferns) in prehistoric mortar and pestle-like rocks. The roots would have been peeled and dried before they were ground into flour and mixed with water. Finally, the paste would be cooked on heated rocks.” -

While our bread baked away, tucked inside its warm little machine, we took to exploring as we do each day at Nature Preschool. The children played just inside an immature “Hemlock Grove” as we called it and discovered water coming from under the ground. They ground the dirt beneath their feet until they had made a nice little well of mud and then took turns stepping in it. Oh for the love of dirt! I am sure they would never grow old of mushing their muddy boots deeper into that puddle. We are still discovering new things each time we explore. And with each day that passes, we too notice how time really never stays still. And with that, I will leave you with this question: Have you notice in this new season, this season of spring, how very much your children have grown and started to change once more?


Notes from the Naturalist: A Special Outing with the Older Children!

Under a light rain we entered the woods and found a world full of exciting finds. Any good scientist will tell you that in order to find out the why and how of what is going on is through observation. Over the last couple of weeks the children at HCMA have been working on honing these very important skills. Soon after entering the woods we stopped to notice a change in the forest and from that observation, we quickly recorded many more interesting finds.

We hiked past the Slim Baker Lodge and descended down the Stephens Trail about 300’ and noted our first observation. Reading the forested landscape is important in recognizing changes within that given landscape. We observed a change from a deciduous or hardwood forest type to a coniferous or soft-wood forest type. We recorded that we could see oak leaves on the ground and a very open canopy (at this time of year) and yet looking ahead we noticed that the Hemlock forest looked very dark in comparison and the ground beneath it was bare with no leaves. Noticing forest type is a great skill for children as it will soon become an indicator for them to look for different species that grow or inhabit each different eco-tone.

“An ecotone is a transition area between two biomes. It is where two communities meet and integrate. It may be narrow or wide, and it may be local (the zone between a field and forest) or regional (the transition between forest and grassland ecosystems). An ecotone may appear on the ground as a gradual blending of the two communities across a broad area, or it may manifest itself as a sharp boundary line. The word ecotone was coined from a combination of eco(logy) plus -tone, from the Greek tonos or tension – in other words, a place where ecologies are in tension”.

Our hike took us off trail and up the spine of Little Round Top Mountain. We explained to the children that we were in fact “Bushwacking”. We explained that off-trail hiking is something you only do with an adult who has a map, compass and a great sense of direction. This brought us to the very important discussion of being lost in the woods. As set forth by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, we instructed the children to “Hug a Tree”. The “Hug a Tree” method should be talked about with our children each time we venture out into the woods. When a child hugs a tree, it limits their movement and reduces the chances that they wander further away from the location of where they were last seen. If a child has a whistle attached to their backpack or jacket they are to blow the whistle to attract attention. Sometimes children will clam up and not respond when lost because of the fear that they are in trouble. We explained to the children how very much their parents, family and teachers love them and if they ever find themselves lost in the woods to know that they are not in “trouble”.

As we continued up the spine of the mountainside and before we reconnected with the trail, we found many signs of White Tailed Deer. Deer scat was everyone and in fact we found not only a deer trail, but an area of broken hemlock branches where deer had chewed on and broke off the tips of the branches. One of our very observant students also spotted deer fur on a tree, where perhaps they had rubbed up against the bark. And of course, since it is that time of the year again, please take the time to check your children from head to toe in search of ticks. Deer ticks are in fact very small – as in the tip of a pen small! Do not assume that since you were not in an area common for ticks that you can forgo the search. Make it a daily habit from now until the snow flies again.