Notes from the Naturalist Week 9: The Nature Preschool at HCMA


What a difference a week can make! The cold air is starting to settle in with us, around us and become part of our everyday experience.  I am always amazed at how wind has a way of announcing its arrival. It can be loud, or a low and steady whimper or just a constant state of noise – not really noticeable until it becomes still once again.  But this week – no wind! And I believe the absence of that strong and biting breeze, along with children dressed so warm, set the stage for a fun and successful day.  Or maybe….just maybe, we have found our rhythm in nature’s giant playground, side by side with friends.  

November sets the stage for our project based learning series. Each week we will build off the previous, giving the children an opportunity for concrete learning opportunities.  Last week each child picked a Spirit Animal – something that spoke to their heart.  After showing the children a photo of wildlife native to our area, we went around the group and each child choose an animal that spoke to their heart. It was such a fun and inspiring moment to see which animal spoke to the heart of each child. As we looked at the animals, many children showed delight and awe. And yet the best part was watching them glow with excitement as the animal they hoped to claim as their own, soon became their Spirit Animal.  We also noted how fitting the connection between the child and the animal identity were. 

Finding an identity with wildlife is a great opportunity to help children of this young age to become their best selves possible. Spirit Animals not only become a very real connection to nature, but it also helps them to bridge the gap in their social existence within their peer group.  During morning Circle Time each child will put a stone with a picture of their Spirit Animal into the Mandala – a way of announcing their attendance for the day.  Each child will also become an expert on their Spirit Animal, allowing them the opportunity to teach all of us about the wildlife that is native to our area and giving them valuable opportunities in peer leadership. 

“Most folks who work with children know that children are drawn to animals of all kinds. There is definitely something special about children’s interest in animals. Research shows that humans’ innate interest in animals is biological: we are drawn to species that are “other” than human and in many cases have an instinct to want to care for or nurture creatures that are small and vulnerable” – Natural Start Alliance.  

As we ended our time at circle today, our last exercise for the children includes several deep breaths and a couple yoga poses. In step with our project based learning, we asked if anyone had a yoga pose that represented their Spirit Animal. One child immediately chimed in and showed us his pose. We beamed with pride for this normally shy young man as he did not hesitate to share his Skunk Pose! In the coming days we will be photographing the children in their Spirit Animal Yoga poses for class reference.  

“Researchers trace the roots of our animal love to our distinctly human capacity to infer the mental states of others, a talent that archaeological evidence suggests emerged anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Not only did the new cognitive tool enable our ancestors to engage in increasingly sophisticated social exchanges with one another, it also allowed them to anticipate and manipulate the activities of other species” – Natalie Angier.  

Who do you think your child picked?