The Preschool Naturalist
It’s always a good day when I spend time with Nature Connect's preschoolers. On this particular Friday in January, the skies were clear, and the sun was quickly warming the crisp air. By the time we hiked as a class into the forest, many of the children had shed their jackets.
I could tell that they often played in this part of the forest. Some immediately began climbing a fallen tree while one sat purposefully under its exposed roots to observe the action. A few feet away, another small group had become a family, including pets, that were nesting in a teepee shelter. A bit further into the forest, Ms. Ashley sat on a low
limb at the “doctor’s office” with a series of ailments as children gave her pretend shots, medicine, and Bandaids. At one point, she even had surgery.
Buddy seemed to be taking a break from this microcosm of community. He approached me with a small stick draped with a white, web-like substance. “See, it’s mycelium,” Buddy said in his characteristic nonchalant way. “The white stuff. Mushrooms will grow.”
“That’s interesting,” I said. “How do you know it's mycelium?”
“Ms. Maria taught me.” With that, Buddy ran off to join his friends. Even after three years of being a part of Nature Connect, it still amazes me how quickly the children absorb lessons about the natural world. They aren’t just shown pictures of fungus and plants in a book or on a screen, but rather they can see, smell, and sometimes touch these wonders in their daily play to make the lessons tangible. Weeks later, they can often remember enough of what they learned to share that knowledge with someone else.
Not long after I chatted about mycelium with Buddy, I spotted him picking up sticks. Just under his feet was a creeping plant with small green leaves and red berries. “Wow, look at this, Buddy,” I said. “Have you seen these berries before?”
“They look like Coralberries,” he said. Buddy was referring to the invasive Coralberry plant that grows like a weed through the landscape and produces red berries. Because the plant is invasive, we let the children pull them out of the ground.
“Let’s see.” I reached to my left to pick a Coralberry. Then I plucked a red berry from the plant Buddy,
and I were observing. “Interesting,” I said, trying to keep my friend engaged. “How many holes do you see on the Coralberry?”
“And how many holes do you see on this berry?” I turned the berry over, and Buddy leaned close.
“Two!” he shouted.
“Yes! The one with two berries is called a Partridge berry.”
“And if it has three holes, it’s called a Privet,” he said casually as if all four-year-olds knew this. “OK, I have my stick. I’m going to play now.” With that, Buddy ran off to play and explore among nature as all good naturalists do.