Notes from the Naturalist Week15:The Nature Preschool at HCMA


Behold, upon the new fallen snow that two truths will alight before us in the coming days….. Fire and Light. Winter Solstice will greet us next Tuesday and we will embrace the changing light of short winter days with our friends from the whole of Heart Centered Multi-Age School. A celebration with great friends and teachers calls for a fire! Fire is life and fire is intriguing. It pulls us and shapes us and in its most elemental form demands great respect. And with respect due, we took time today to discuss this very topic.  

In our upper gathering area, in front of the Slim Baker Lodge, sits a fire place. We took time today to shovel around and in the fire pit, cleaning off fire wood and just having a talk about fire safety. What is a safe fire zone?  We discussed this both outside and inside. As a prepared work inside, we made a fire in a basket, “the fire pit”, and around the fire pit we laid out two zones – one is the red zone, with an unhappy face, and the outer boundary is the green zone, with a smiley face.  Red and green is the basic form of explaining the Do’s and Don’ts in an easy format. We also provided two figures for imaginative play around the fire. Each child took a turn setting up a “Safe Fire Zone”.  The fire making work became a fast favorite. I particularly enjoyed overhearing a child in conversation about no running around the fire! Yes! 

“Wherever humans have gone in the world, they have carried with them two things, language and fire. As they traveled through tropical forests they hoarded the precious embers of old fires and sheltered them from downpours. When they settled the barren Arctic, they took with them the memory of fire, and recreated it in stoneware vessels filled with animal fat. Darwin himself considered these the two most significant achievements of humanity. It is, of course, impossible to imagine a human society that does not have language, but—given the right climate and an adequacy of raw wild food—could there be a primitive tribe that survives without cooking? In fact, no such people have ever been found. Nor will they be, according to a provocative theory by Harvard biologist Richard Wrangham, who believes that fire is needed to fuel the organ that makes possible all the other products of culture, language included: the human brain.” 

Next week will set the foundation for fire safety. As we move into the New Year, we will start the conversation about campfires and how to prepare a safe fire. We will learn about the basic concepts of fire building with small sticks and start to introduce small cooking projects such as making tea. Our conversations will include the important roles that adults will play in our interactions with fire. At no time will the children be invited into the red zone. We encourage you as families to talk about fire safety. If you have an outdoor fire at home, establish a safe zone by laying out a boundary that the child is not invited in to. Perhaps you could set an age your family finds appropriate that they may be invited into the red zone…such as age 8 or 10, this will give them a time frame as to when they will be able to take on that important role of “feeding the fire”. 

For more information on fire safety in the outdoor setting:

For more information on fire safety with toddlers: 

For more information on fire and humans:


Notes from the Naturalist Week 14:The Nature Preschool at HCMA


Snow!  While yesterdays’ snowstorm may seem like old news, it was not for our Nature Preschoolers!  Fresh snow is like a bare canvas, inviting one to leave their mark. Unprompted and under their own design, each child found a fun way to engage in the new snow. Some made snow angles, prepared “ice cakes”, threw snowballs at trees and even built a snowman. Snow is exciting to some and not for others. How we engage each child in this outdoor process is so very important as we help them to build their outdoor foundation for life.  

This is our real first day of Nature Preschool with snow on the ground.  You could see how many of the children were at their happiest of moments in the snow and some were just at odds with what to do with it and how to handle themselves in it. I love snow and find that there are so many fun activities to do in the snow. But the reality is that there are some individuals who, no matter what, do not have the same fondness of snow as I do. As teachers and guides, we observe our little students all the time. And it is in this moment, with snow on the ground that the light goes off…..why is this child struggling to find happiness in this moment when they have been so carefree and easygoing from the start of school? Aaa-ha!  So I ask one child, why they are not enjoying the moment……and the answer was: “I just don’t like snow!”  Each child is born with their own unique personality, and we are here to help them be who they are.  Even if they do not like snow! 

Uniqueness is no different from personalities to snowflakes. There are 35 types of snowflakes (and I won’t list them here….). While it has been said that no two snowflakes are the same, we can all agree that they sure do come in a variety of forms.  “Atmospheric conditions affect how snow crystals form and what happens to them as they fall to the ground. Snow may fall as symmetrical, six-sided snowflakes, or it may fall as larger clumps of flakes. Similarly, once snow is on the ground, the snowpack may assume different qualities depending on local temperature changes, whether winds blow the snow around, or how long the snow has been on the ground. For instance, a fresh snowfall may be loose and powdery, but snow that has been on the ground throughout the winter may have dense, crusted layers caused by melting and refreezing. Scientists and meteorologists have classified types of snowfall, snowpack, and snow formations.” – 

When we first arrived at the lodge, the snow was dry and would not clump together. As the sun came out and warmed the snow surface, melting the ice crystals, the density of the snow changed allowing us to clump and roll the snow. Charting the types of snow as winter goes on is an excellent idea to see how each storm can be different according to the atmospheric conditions, local temperatures and wind in any given area.  Enjoy each unique snowflake….they are just as special as each unique personality! Happy Snow Day! 

For more information on Snow Flakes:


Notes from the Naturalist Week 13:The Nature Preschool at HCMA

The beauty in days like today, are the challenges. It was raining and cold, in the woods it was a little bit of a slippery obstacle. But when we announced that we were headed out to our gathering area in the woods, all we heard were cheers of happiness. I waited, thinking oh how this might end….we have been away from school, out of routine and busy with the Thanksgiving holiday. We had some slips, trips and falls but still the challenges, were so few. I suppose, if you hit rewind, just a couple weeks back, we might be looking at a different picture. Progress. Simply put, it has been our progress, our movements, small at times, have put us in a good place to welcome this uncertain time as we edge closer to knocking on WINTER’S official door. And the challenges….well….we still have many days to come and they sure do help us all grow!

Warm children are happy children! And thanks to the parents of our amazing little naturalists who sent well prepared children, we spent close to two hours outside today. This is a huge deal considering, it was raining, the temperature hovered around 32 degrees and there was spotty ice and snow on the ground. Adding moisture in the form of rain can really do some of us in during the winter. We talked about how much fun it was to be outside and how playing under the trees this morning, helped to keep our clothes in a drier condition than if we played out in the open rain. An adaptation perhaps? We even took the time to snack together huddled inside the wood shelter. Sitting down to eat outside is only possible for well prepared and layered children. I mark today as a success in the otherwise challenging weather conditions. 

From afar you might compare our journey settling into the seasons in the same way as the animals in the forest. As each week passes we discover a little more about Animal Adaptations as we work on the question: What Do Animals Do in Winter?  Last week we talked about “huddling”.  White Tailed Deer yard up.  “Deer gather in "yards" composed of evergreen trees, often on a south facing slopes. They take advantage of less wind and shallower snow, sharing paths, which reduces their energy exertion” (  Eastern Wild Turkeys, gathered in flocks will congregate in stands of hemlock, pine, and other softwoods when the ground gets covered with a powdery snowfall. "Softwood stands provide mostly shelter, as the trees will hold snow in the canopy, and there will be less on the ground for the turkeys to contend with” (Northern Woodlands). Today was a great day to review where we left off, while continuing the journey as we learn about each of our spirit animals in winter. 

For more information on Animal Adaptations:


Notes from the Naturalist Week 11:The Nature Preschool at HCMA



It is in the small moments that we can glean big progress. Today was full of small moments that added up to a beautiful day. We shared moments of calm play, each child was so quiet in their own little world, you could hear the forest around us and the light drops of morning rain on the lodge. This calm, this quite, is evidence of the comfort and ease the children feel in this place on the side of Little Round Top Mountain. I find myself saying each Tuesday, “Today was the best day yet…..” and perhaps that is the truth with real progress.

Today found us honing in on our fair weather schedule. As we flex with the mild weather, we follow the schedule that best fits with the days demands.  Each day we walk a little closer to winter, we take the next step in preparing our minds and our bodies for the changes that will come as the weather cools, our brains grow another wrinkle and our bodies stretch to accommodate our new found independence. Each child has worked hard over the last couple of months with work on social and emotional independence, let us celebrate this huge stepping stone. 

I don’t know if it was the grey of the day or the calm of the children, but it sure felt noticeably different as we played in our gathering area. As the drum beat out, a signal for a transition, the children moved to sit under our tarp area. Snuggled just inside the tree-line, we gathered to talk about “Adaptations”.  Our discussions rarely last more than ten minutes, but let me tell you this was not only real progress for these little ones, but great success overall. We don’t ask for them to sit very long, but just long enough to stretch their little bodies for real learning. We discussed seasonal changes, some calling out how they loved the beach and warm weather or the puddles of spring. After identifying the proper clothing for each season we talked about how wildlife make adaptations for winter.  

“An adaptation is a mutation, or genetic change, that helps an organism, such as a plant or animal, survive in its environment. Due to the helpful nature of the mutation, it is passed down from one generation to the next. As more and more organisms inherit the mutation, the mutation becomes a typical part of the species. The mutation has become an adaptation.” – National Geographic.  Our conversation about Adaptations was kept fairly simple: from shearing sheep to shedding fur, and growing thicker winter fur coats, we had a great conversation about winter survival. If you every want to lose yourself in an interesting conservation, engage with your child….oh how they spin some great tales! 

We look forward to seeing you all on Sunday as we gather and celebrate the fall season and the growth of each child. Please come dressed to enjoy our time outside. Be prepared that the weather forecast is calling for rain and temperatures in the 40’s. We will have our light refreshments and drinks set up under the porch but we would love for you to enjoy our outdoor natural space…..even with a little rain! But of course, at the foundation of this type of learning environment, we are always ready to be flexible, make a change and adapt in that moment. 

 For more information on adaptions:     



Notes from the Naturalist Week 10:The Nature Preschool at HCMA

Enchantment. It is the only word that best describes the beauty and cadence of our day. We arrived in warm clothes but quickly, we found it was too much. Perhaps we could call today a gift, as I am fairly certain the children sure felt gratitude for the warmth of the sun and the gentle light it gave through the trees. In this month where the word gratitude is certainly a mainstay, we surely felt such great thanks for the gift of the “renovation” to our tree house, an enhanced mud kitchen and a beautifully handcrafted “tree” table and “tree stump” chairs. Novelties are a big part of children at this age, and we work hard to give them enriching experiences that are so much more meaningful when capped with fun play structures and exciting outdoor adventures.  

We could not resist the urge to maximize our time spent outside today. Off we went to hike, but the field called out to us on our way and the children found great joy in running in its welcoming expanse. How could we not soak up the warmth of the sun and the joy of a fleeting autumn day? Follow the child! As we entered the field and followed the perimeter, one child called out that a tree had fallen in the field. Oh, how I enjoy the spontaneity of children calling out in their investigation of this place, their classroom, in the forest. We should always teach in the moment, providing an opportunity for enriched learning.  The tree in the field was dead, most likely it fell from a strong wind.  But the exciting part was the vine wrapped around its base, working its way up the tree.  

The vine is called Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). It is an invasive species that has been pushing out the native variety, American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), here in the Northeast. “Oriental bittersweet is a vigorous growing plant that threatens native vegetation from the ground to the canopy level. Thick masses of vines sprawl over shrubs, small trees and other plants, producing dense shade that weakens and kills them. Shrubs and trees can be killed by girdling and by uprooting as a result of excessive weight of the vines” – National Park Service.  The difference is that our native species has a smoother stem while the exotic variety has blunt thorny stems. Many people today still use bittersweet as a decorative accent in wreaths and other holiday garlands. Many state and federal agencies are working hard to eradicate a variety of invasive species such as Oriental Bittersweet. Unfortunately, many bird species find this exotic plant to be palatable to their diets and will distribute the seeds once they have digested the berries, therefore the spread of some exotic, non-native invasive species is difficult to harness.  

We did take some time to stretch our learning within the classroom. While it was hard to leave the sunshine and warmth, we ventured inside for some important classical education. Today we worked again on using a work mat, selecting a work from the shelf, inviting a friend to partake in the activity and then following up with cleanup. For some children this was a task outside of their comfort zone and for others, it was in perfect synch with their educational needs. We took this last opportunity to lunch on the porch and each child shared their favorite part of the day. You could not ask for more calm and articulate children.  

Today was such a gift. These children, this weather, created an atmosphere of pure enjoyment. We know there will be many imperfect days, many difficult days of dressing in warm clothes and working through colder temperatures. But I hope as parents you feel the love and see the hard work each child brings forth to this program. In the few short months we have been together, today reminded me that each child has grown, will continue to grow and is learning through creative and imaginative play here in the woods.  This is a humbling and joyous journey.