Notes from the Naturalist Week 6: Nature Preschool at HCMA

Fall is well upon us now. Within these crisp mornings and cool air, there is a whisper not far off….winter is coming. We gather, we collect, and we watch the changing sun. As if in rhythm with the changing season, the children, much like the wildlife around here, have been busy in their play and busy in their “gathering” of natural objects. While the wildlife are readying themselves for winter - from gathering food to growing thicker fur coats - our little naturalists have busied themselves in defining spaces, places to play and learn and grow. At the most basic level, we are in sync with the natural world around us.

“During the preschool years, it is important to help children discover what has been termed as their ecopsychological self—the child’s natural sense of self in relation to the natural world (Phenice & Griffore 2003). Many authorities believe that due to humans’ evolution in the natural world, we possess nature-based genetic coding and instincts, that children are born with a natural sense of relatedness to nature and this innate and developmental tendency towards empathy, biophilia or affiliation with nature needs to be nurtured starting in their earliest years (Barrows 1995, Lewis 1996, Nelson 1993, Sobel 1996, Tilbury 1996, Wilson 1993 & 1997). Children’s instinctive feelings of continuity with nature are demonstrated by the attraction fairy tales set in nature and populated by animal characters have to children (Barrows 1995).” - The Coalition for Education in the Outdoors, Cortland, New York.

Our adventures today took us to the north side of the Slim Baker Lodge. Off path we wandered, where we discovered another stick house, an opening in a stone wall and slightly uphill, we discovered a large rock formation sticking out of the ground. We tossed around ideas of what to call this place: Whale Rock, Rock Mountain, Little Sunlight Spot….. And one can imagine that this space quickly turned into a hot spot for creative play. Part of Whale Rock became a slide, where each child exercised their large muscles and very carefully so, worked to climb back up on top only to come down once again with a smile on their face. It is pure enjoyment to watch these children discover and learn how to “use” their natural spaces. For the most part we leave the “creative” part up to them while we observe from the fringe during this important time in nature play.

While on top of Whale Rock we discovered a plethora of moss growing all over. Mosses are small flowerless plants that typically grow in dense green clumps or mats, often in damp or shady locations. Some types of mosses tend to grow on old tree stumps, at the base of trees and on rocks. Typically mosses are found in moist areas with a high tolerance for shade. Today we found two types of moss: Curled Leaf and Four tooth. “Curled Leaf Moss (Ulota crispa) grows in dark green clumps. The leaves are straight when wet but curled and twisted when dry. The spore capsule is straight and pleated when empty. Habitat is tree trunks above the base of trees. It can grow higher on tree trunks because of its adaptation to increased light and drier conditions. Another moss with curled leaves, the Mountain Fork Moss (described in this article), grows on tree bases. Four Tooth Moss forms short, dark to pale green tufts of erect, unbranched plants. It has four peristome teeth, a characteristic that is found in only one other moss species (the rarer Tetraphi geniculata) in the Northeast. Seasonally, the moss bears gemmae (asexual reproductive structures) that grow in a leafy “cup” on top of the stems. The cups resemble a miniature bird’s nest with eggs. Habitat is usually on well-decomposed wood such as logs and stumps, but also on sandstone and soils high in organic matter. ” -

For more information on children’s relationship with nature:

For more information on Northeastern Mosses: