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.