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.


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….