Notes from the Naturalist Week 28


We can mark another beautiful day down in the books at Nature Preschool. The sun was shining, the weather warm and the children were full of energy. After the gray days of last week, we definitely earned today. With our morning play and circle time out of the way, we took to the woods. Up the Stephen’s Trail we went, in search of nothing and found so much to explore. The children have grown in so many ways since the beginning of school and today was a testament to the hard work of each child’s maturity and development. Would you believe it if we told you not one child complained on the steep hike up the mountain? Truth!

Springtime is filled with so much activity. Midway up the trail we spotted scat on the trail. The questions went around about who is belonged to, how old it was and did it have hair in it? We found trees with buds on them. Again, the questions went around about what type of tree and when would the leaves pop out. Further up the trail a moth flew by – some called It a butterfly! And to round it out the birds were singing along with an icy trail to navigate. So many parts to the whole picture.

In this season of Nature Preschool, it has become noticeable that each child has really reached a level of comfort in their outdoor play. One child gathered two sticks and talked about making a fire which eventually led to making a fairy house. As friends came around, they made furniture out of pinecones and small pieces of wood. Another child was seen dragging around a hefty size white pine branch while “building” a fort. Some children were busy playing “house” were they took naps on a rock made dinner in their outdoor kitchen. This level of creativity in play really shows how comfortable the children are within their environment and with their peer group.

Every moment we explore the Slim Baker area we are filled with gratitude for the ability to teach in such a special area. We encourage all of our families to explore the many different trails this unique area. Some trails lead to an open field perfect for running and games. Some trails lead deep into the woods. You can go straight up to top or you can meander through the woods, up ledge and pop out on the backside. There are brooks, and rock nooks, there are hardwoods and softwoods and there is space……space to enjoy, relax and connect. Take the time to explore with your children, connect to a special place and see where it leads you. This adventure of ours at Nature Preschool, is pretty darn sweet!

For information on scat: www. For more information on birds in New England:

For more information on creative and pretend play:


Notes from the Naturalist - Week 27


Every season has some sort of indicator of change. Warmer days. Fall leaves. Snow. Maple Syrup! In spring fashion today, we celebrated the changing of the winter season, welcoming spring and the sweet taste of Maple Syrup. The weather obviously had a mixed opinion about the changes that are upon us as we watched rain and snow both fall from the sky today. But warm within the lodge we mixed up a batch of waffles and ate them with local Maple Syrup!

We counted all the way up to 40 today! Forty is the number of sap gallons it takes to make one gallon of maple syrup. The children were introduced to several types of spiles or spouts that are “tapped” into trees allowing sap to flow out and collect into a bucket. We looked at a metal bucket and at plastic tubing.  All of the children helped out with the task of mixing and making waffles and they waited so patiently that when the time came for them to eat, they were so very still and quiet!  I am not sure we have ever been that quiet for an extended period of time. They savored every bit of the experience before them!  

“All trees photosynthesize during the growing season and produce sugars to use for growth. In the fall, when trees stop growing, excess sugars are stored for the following spring. Some of those sugars are stored in the tree’s trunk in what are called rays.”

“If you look at the stump of a tree, you’ll see rings of wood. Perpendicular to the rings, rays of cells run from the center of the tree to the bark. These rays consist of living cells that hold sugars that trees use for building new cells and repairing damage from a nail or woodpecker hole. These rays are the source of the sugar for maple syrup.”

“And, the cell configuration in sugar maples is just right to allow sap to flow in the spring. You can tap other species and boil down their sap, but you will not get very much syrup. As it is, the ratio of sap to syrup for a sugar maple is 40:1, so it takes 10 gallons of sap to make a quart of syrup. For a birch, the ratio is 80:1. So tapping sugar maples is the most productive.”

“Physics is what makes the sap run. Nights with temperatures below freezing followed by days with temperatures in the 40s to 50s make sap flow. These conditions occurred in January 2012, and February of this year, but in past years didn’t happen until March or April. The freeze-thaw cycle causes a change in pressure, which forces the sap to move. At night, when the temperature cools, gases dissolve into the sap fluid, causing a decrease in pressure in those cells. The fluid in the wood freezes, compressing the gases in ice. As the temperature increases the next day, the ice melts, the sap warms and the gases expand, forcing the sap to run out of the tree and into the collecting bucket. If the temperatures remain below freezing during the day or well above freezing at night, those pressure differences will not occur and the sap will not flow.”

“The boiling is where chemistry is important. As the sap boils, pure water evaporates and the sucrose concentrates. During the boiling, foam must be skimmed from the surface every few minutes. The foam is the product of a chemical reaction that occurs as the sap heats. The cooking also causes minerals in the sap to precipitate as solids. This precipitate is commonly called niter. It is harmless but somewhat gritty and not very pleasant to eat. It consists largely of potassium, calcium, silica, magnesium, sodium and some other minerals that occur naturally dissolved in the fluid in trees. The skimming of the foam as the sap cooks reduces the amount of niter in the end product. The minerals stick to the organic compounds that make up the foam.”

“You know the season is over when the syrup begins to taste like an old shoe. This happens when the trees start to use sucrose for growth and other compounds become dominant in the sap. When this happens, it’s time to put away the equipment and start planning the garden.”-

With our bellies full and warm, we decided to take a hike out in the dreary weather. I’m not sure it ever felt cold, rainy or snowy while we were outside today. Each child was so well dressed in their rain and winter gear that it made for perfect conditions to explore and hike. The children have become conditioned to being outside and with that they found their rhythm and stride and hiked straight up to the top of Little Round Top! Quite amazing, right?  We have not been up to the top since before December. The children are so used to their equipment, the cold weather and with an overall positive attitude towards the outside, it’s just part of what they do now!  



Summer at HCMA


We are so excited about Summer at HCMA.  Please email with the subject: Summer at HCMA to request registration materials.

Think Summer!!


Notes from the Naturalist Week 26:The Nature Preschool at HCMA

We are still enjoying full on winter conditions up at the lodge. There was a little ice on the road and fog in the air as I pulled in this morning. There is something special about gray, damp days in a lodge. But we did manage to balance our time both in and out with the needs of the children. The dampness of the day certainly proved to cover us all by the time we ended our exploration outside. And let there be no doubt, children who play hard eat a LOT!


As our Nature Preschoolers have become more comfortable with the surrounding Slim Baker Area and their level of ease walking in the woods, we took the time to talk about being safe in the outdoors once again. As a rule the children must always be able to see us and we must always be able to see them. We talked about checking in with a teacher as a way of staying safe and also about the importance of what to do if we need their immediate attention.  As with all of our lessons or works, we have to balance the children’s maturity and readiness to participate in all that we plan.  And today was the perfect time to bring out our whistle. Our whistle is used as a safety tool in much the same way as our drum. Our drum signals a time of transition where the whistle signals immediate and halting attention. We blow the whistle with three short notes, signaling all attention on teachers and to immediate sit down. This type of protocol allows the teacher to make a quick assessment of the situation and determine the next step. Please talk to your children about being safe outdoors. We love to hear the children come back to school with such great ownership in sharing their stories with families at home! 

Over the last two months we have made note of the Deer tracks that are always present in our gathering area at school. And today was no exception. Sure enough we found them again. Children have such an affinity and deep curiosity for all that takes place in their world. As soon as the word goes out that an animal track has been spotted, watch out or you will get trampled by ten preschoolers!

“Of all the evergreens in the winter woods, eastern hemlocks are the friendliest. During the short, dark days of winter—when we are tempted to stay inside our heated spaces—the hemlock calls us to come out and play. What makes the eastern hemlock so special to winter-weary humans? Its short, flat needles are soft to the touch (not prickly like spruce) and its trunk doesn’t gum up your hands with pitch. Hemlocks are shade loving and their lower branches can live for a long time, making them the perfect trees for finding or building shelters made of sticks and leaves. A mature hemlock creates such dense shade, and its needles cause the soil to be so acidic, that few other plants can grow underneath. As a result, hemlock groves create their own micro-environment—cool, open, and dark. Perfect places for hiding, resting, and playing games.”

“Hemlock groves are magical to non-human animals, too. Because hemlock branches hold so much snow, snow depths beneath the trees are significantly lower. Deer often bed down underneath these trees, taking advantage of shallower snow and sheltering branches. Treat yourself to an early morning snowshoe or hike. You may be able to follow deer tracks from hemlock to hemlock, finding packed snow outlining the shape of a deer underneath each one. Many animals eat hemlock. (In case you were wondering, eastern hemlock is not the kind of hemlock that poisoned Socrates.) Grouse and rabbits eat buds and needles. Red squirrels and mice chew off the scales of the tiny hemlock cones to get at the seeds underneath. Deer will also eat hemlock foliage and twigs as high up as they can reach. “-

We love the trees that surround us in the Slim Baker Area and so do the wildlife! Hemlock, Pine, Oak, Maple…. 


Notes from the Naturalist Week 25: The Nature Preschool at HCMA Week


There is nothing wrong with ordinary days.  And today was just that. Ordinary. But that is not to say we did not fill our moments with extraordinary learning.  From a science experiment about the density and buoyancy of objects, tinkering at the object tray, creating habitat for woodland animals with the new “dirt” playdough to finding deer tracks near the gathering area, we filled our day. 

We also had a special visitor today, Dick Tapply, Board President of the Slim Baker Foundation for Outdoor Education, Inc. We were thrilled to share our day with Dick and give him a tour of our Nature Preschool. We had a great conversation about the history of the Slim Baker Area and the importance of carrying on the oral history of the area. We have talked many times about Place-Based Education and the connections it creates. Through this connection to the natural world and this place, each child will take something meaningful away with them. We hope that this will one day manifest in making environmentally conscious decisions or leading to a solid conservation ethic that lives with each child as they grow. 

Slim Baker was a Conservation Officer and a well known and loved member of the greater Newfound Community. In 1953 Slim became fatally ill and the community rallied to find a way to support all the work he had done. Slim had a dream to create a school of outdoor living. With that vision at the forefront, the Newfound Community set out to make Slim’s dream come true. 

“Slim’s many friends, aware of his illness, began to work to make his dream a reality. A group of Bristol residents met early in 1953 to discuss the possibilities for carrying this out. The idea was brought to the attention of Reba Follansbee Hipson, whose father Herbert had always spoken of donating a beautiful 125-acre tract of land around Little Round Top to the Town of Bristol, but without knowing who would want it or for what purpose.

A non-profit corporation, the Slim Baker Fund for Outdoor Living, was formed. Mrs. Hipson volunteered to donate the 125 acres to the group. The members felt that to insure permanence of the arrangement, the Bristol Federated Church should hold the deed to the property, with the understanding that it would be leased to the Directors of the Slim Baker Fund as long as the intent of the original idea was carried out.

In late 1954, a site was cleared for the construction of a rustic lodge. Work on the lodge began during 1955 and it was completed in the spring of 1956. Also in 1956, an adjacent ten-acre field was purchased by the Fund and added to the original acreage. This property provided good access to the lodge, as well as offering some level terrain for campsites. A trail was cut to the summit of Little Round Top.

Beginning in 1960, the area of the Little Round Top summit now known as Inspiration Point was developed as a memorial to Dean Stephens by his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Waldo Stephens. Dean had spent all his summers in the Bristol community while he was growing up and loved the area deeply. He died in 1958 at the age of 28 in an airplane crash. Inspiration Point offers a spectacular panoramic view of the Pemigewasset Valley and much of eastern New Hampshire beyond”. -

We are creating memories and future stewards of this great place. We share our love of the outdoors in hopes that each child walks away from the Slim Baker Area and The Nature Preschool with a strong environmental and conservation ethic.