Notes from the Naturalist Week 24 : Nature Preschool at HCMA


Fire and Ice and camping…oh what a day! We experienced some brief icing this morning and while it was a little damp, it certainly did not keep us down. The day just flew by! Waiting for the children this morning, was a camping tent, which they just loved. And it was so nice to have the children jump in and help with setting up the second tent. They knew how to help, where to push to get the poles in and most of all, how to enjoy this special piece of equipment. We let the children explore the use of the tent that best fit their play needs. Some read books inside, some played “tent” with their friends and we even read a book about camping while in the tent.  It might just barely be the month of March, but it’s never too early to brush up on our camping skills!

Heading out to the “Meeting Area”, our designated spot at the fire pit, we tasked the children with finding small sticks, no larger than the size of a cheese stick. We talked about how a small twiggy fire is just the right size for us. If fire is the equivalent of an outdoor television, it sure did the job of sucking in the attention of each child for a while. Overall we spent a solid thirty minutes on talking about fire safety, including match and lighter safety. We explained to the children about the importance of not playing with lighters or matches and if we saw other children doing so, that they needed to seek out an adult immediately.  It is obvious that many of the children have had some sort of safety conversation about this topic and they openly shared with us this information. Having a safety ethic is an important part of our day to day lives and certainly at any age it’s a conversation we need to keep going with our children and families.

The snow is almost gone around the lodge and there is a fair amount of ice around. Although, the children (and yes the teachers!) would love a little more snow on the ground to play in, we will take our outside time anyway we get it! Mud season is upon us!  We will surely come home muddy and dirty and that is at the very core and foundation of free play. Within our free play at Nature Preschool there is also a fair amount of “pretend” play. It’s really fun to listen in and watch this action take place. Mostly the children are playing “house” or “family”. “Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child” While we may subtly jump in at times to redirect play in cases of safety or unkind actions, for the most part we leave each child and situation to develop in its natural state so that each child is valued for their work within their play. We find that this values the integrity of the individual child and opens the doors for place based education to unfold in an organic process. So let’s just outside and play!

Here in the first week of March, life in the outdoors is starting to happen! So In closing, I will bring you a weekly report as recorded by Northern Woodlands Magazine. “Days are longer, the sun is stronger, and turkey vultures are here, seeking roadkill. They prefer to eat animals soon after they have died but they can metabolize bacterial toxins, allowing them to feed on carrion in a fairly advanced state of decay. Other scavengers are turned off sooner. Black, withered stalks of last year’s Indian pipe may still be erect. Most of last year’s cattails have broken off, adding material to the soil at their feet” – Northern Woodlands: The Outside Story.  


For more information on Children and Free-Play:


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Notes from the Naturalist Week 23:The Nature Preschool at HCMA

If I could stop or even slow time, I would have done just that yesterday. I was in the back of the pack as we walked toward the woods and it was a beautiful moment. The sunlight, the warmth, the laughter and gait of the children, it was picture perfect. I could have taken many more still photos, but I was once told that the difference of viewing a scene through the lens of a camera is not as powerful as a memory formed by just viewing the scene before one’s eyes. I think I agree.

Into the woods we went with our snowshoes. Some children jumped right in and loved every minute of the experience. And others found it to be awkward or just not the right fit. Some left them on for an entire hour and some wanted them off within minutes. This was a great exercise in trying new tools to help us in the exploration of nature. We believe that exposure eventually leads to exploration, followed by mastery of skill.  Sometimes it just takes the same exercise of experience before we eventually feel comfortable enough to try something new out.

Along with snow shoes we brought along a snow brick maker and a shovel. The snow was dry and that lack of moisture took a few attempts to figure out how to make a snow bring that would stick together. Eventually the children worked together to pound the snow tighter into the brick maker and out came a perfectly shaped block. We had plans to make snow furniture and dig into some of the snow banks, but interests and nature grabbed our attention elsewhere. Several children noticed White Tailed Deer tracks that had move through the area. At first glance we thought perhaps they were from a Moose, but upon further examination, we felt they rightfully belonged to a White Tailed Deer. As the sun warms the snow, it melts and compacts, creating an exaggerated track in the snow.

“White-tailed deer can live in a variety of habitats, including farmlands, brushy areas, woods, mountains, and suburbs and gardens. They feed on green plants, including aquatic species in the summer, acorns, beechnuts, and corn in the fall, and woody vegetation, including buds and twigs of birch, maple and conifers in the winter. White-tailed deer will typically consume 5 to 9 pounds of food each day and find water from snow, dew and water-bodies. During the winter, deer groups may come together, forming communities of up to 150 individuals in locations called “yards.” This unification keeps trails open and accessible for feeding and also provides protection from predators. However, there have been problems with humans providing supplementary feed sites for deer in the winter. These sites can cause unnaturally high densities of congregated deer that attract predators, increase the risk of disease transmission, increase aggression within the community, and lead to over-browsing of local vegetation and more deer-vehicle collisions. They cause deer to be more dependent on humans and artificial food sources that provide few benefits. NH Fish and Game does not advocate the supplemental feeding of deer, will not participate in winter feeding efforts, and urges landowners not to feed deer. “– NH Fish and Game Department.

One of these days, I am sure we will see some wildlife other than squirrels, chipmunks and birds. But for now, we are a fairly noisy bunch with our snowshoes crunching the snow and our voices calling out to our friends. In time, we may have more moments of stillness that just might allow us to be in the right place, at the right time for a viewing of a deer or moose. And so it is; we will keep on exploring!

For more information on White Tailed Deer or the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department:

For more information on Snowshoeing with children: and



Notes from the Naturalist Week 22:The Nature Preschool at HCMA

Exploration of our natural areas is one of the greatest tools we can give our children. Just let them explore.  Provide them with open areas, trees and plants, wildlife in passing and we give them something special that can never be taken away. In short, we provide children the opportunity to fall in love with nature.  And I suppose in some selfish way, I as the naturalist to each of my brilliant and young Naturalists, am planting a seed that will sprout into the love of natural and wild places forever.   


For every area I explore, I fall in love with some part of its landscape: may it be a bend in the trail, the light at a certain time of day or year, or just the feeling I get from being in that same place. As we explored today, up beyond the log pile near the parking lot, I remembered how very much I enjoy this trail, this area. It might even be my favorite place in the Slim Baker area. There is something about the mid-day light, the shadows on the snow cast by the trees and brush, the rock wall not too far into the woods. And if I gauge correctly the comfort and ease at which the children play, I know that they too are right at home in this place. And that is a beautiful thing. 

As we entered into the area near the log pile, we spotted tracks in the snow. Small in size, the front prints were spread wide and the hind, were in a tight stance. A squirrel perhaps. Looking at the pattern the tracks made in the snow, the hopping, the depth within the snow, it looked at first glance to be a snowshoe hare but we questioned the size and hypothesized that they may be that of a squirrel or chipmunk. The tracks lead directly into the log pile. We questioned if they had a den in the pile or if they were hoping away from a hungry hawk.  It is fun to think of the stories of our forest neighbors, wondering what they did and where they went.  


While we had snack in the lodge today, I pulled out one of my favorite books: Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich. Heinrich is a Professor at the University of Vermont, although retired he still teaches Winter Ecology each year. While not a children’s book, Winter World is written in a way as to intrigue any of us and that is why I find it to be the perfect “adult” book to pick up and read a paragraph or two with the children.  Filled with interesting facts, we explored snippets about Chickadees and Squirrels today. 

“One of the chickadee’s remarkable winter adaptations is their plumage, which is denser than that of other birds their size. Heat loss is mainly from the area round the eye and bill, and when the birds fluff out and then ball up to sleep, they are reducing specifically that area of heat loss by the tucking their heads under their scapular (shoulder) feathers of the wing” (page 139). 

“A chipmunk’s availability of stored food affects whether it remains fully active or enters full torpor [in winter]” (page 99).  From this statement we talked about how each of our families prepare for winter events, such as snow or ice storms, by shopping for extra food and setting water aside so that we are prepared. 

“As the wasp family grows and more room is needed, the insects enlarges their nest by recycling the paper walls from the inside to make new, larger ones on the outside. A nest starts out in May no bigger than a walnut with just one paper shell. And ends up basketball size by late summer having about a dozen layers of paper insulation surrounding almost as many horizontal combs with pupae larvae, hanging one above the other inside” (page 57).

I hope you take the time to let you children explore in the coming days. Let them gather and store memories for the future. Impress upon them the very special place we live in and pour your love of the outside into their hands. They are our future stewards and caretakers of our precious and necessary wild places.   

For more information on Bernd Heinrich:


Nature Preschool Benefits Young Minds:

Did you get to read Thomas Caldwell's article about our amazing Nature Preschool?  Here is the link!  Enjoy! 


Notes from the Naturalist Week 20:The Nature Preschool at HCMA


There is a story in the forest. It might be from today, a week or even a month ago. In such a place that holds great solitude, it is also a place of great hustle and bustle. Do you take the time to read the story, listen for or see who the characters are? Do you slow your pace to pick up the tiniest of clues? If you are willing, you will be enchanted by the very story set within the forest. And that is just what we did today!


It has been said that children need the first 15 minutes of outside time to just get into the rhythm of being outside and relaxed enough to fully participate in free play and reap the benefits of this valuable time. And as if on cue, 15-20 minutes in, we noticed the children start to relax and explore. Some children played house within the dense Hemlock Trees and some just slid down the hill. But once we spotted tracks in the snow, off we went only to discover more tracks! The story began for us with a set of dog-like tracks, perhaps a coyote or maybe just a domestic dog. It was hard to tell and differentiate in the glossy snow as to whom the tracks really belonged to. But it was those dog-like tracks that lead us to more tracks that tell another story – a story that is close to a month old!


We set out at the end of our Winter Solstice Gathering back in December to decorate several trees with birdseed ornaments along with strings of cranberries and popcorn. Upon returning form Christmas Break, we saw little evidence that anyone had come to our trees while we were away, yet it was obvious that the trees were bare. Perhaps a Chickadee or a Nuthatch came flitting in for a winter snack. Somehow, cranberries were left behind, buried in the snow, only to resurface with the warm temperatures. As we slowed our pace following the dog-like tracks, we spotted the tiniest of tracks, followed by red, swollen berries and urine patches. We surmised those tiny little tracks belonged to a chipmunk or a squirrel.

And because the story of the forest is so contagious and fun, as we turned our eyes deeper within the trees, we saw yet another great sight! Perched on the hillside, a fallen, dead tree lay with over five holes drilled wide and deep. How interesting! Off we went to climb, inspect, and investigate the beauty of this fallen log. When asked who would do this to a tree, one child quickly yelled out: a woodpecker! Beyond the fallen tree, up the hill and onto a mossy and exposed rock, the children slid and tumbled. And at the very top of this rock, back into the cold winter snow, we discovered more tracks! A White Tailed Deer! With each twist and turn in our story today, the children found excitement and joy. Nature at its most simplest and yet complex, gives us such an amazing story. May you find the time to slow down and discover the story on your next visit into the forest!

Animal tracking can be a fun family activity. With the new snow on the ground, you may want to find some time in the next 12 -24 hours to explore your backyard to see who may be part of the story in your area. A useful resource for identifying New Hampshire wildlife species can be found for printing in the following link:

Happy Tracking everyone!