You never know what you'll find outdoors!
While strolling along a Springbrook Park trail near Uplands Elementary School, preschooler Penny Cervantes spotted a mysterious cave off in the distance.
In her many walks through the park, guide Sue Thomas hadn't noticed the cave before, so she agreed to check it out. After traversing through the brush, they found a fallen tree covered with ivy, which formed a respite for small animals.
To Thomas, the experience represented one of the objectives of the Friends of Springbrook Park's Preschool Walks — to engender a zest for exploration.
"I didn't think about going back there, but if she's (Penny) adventurous enough to want to do it, I'm always willing to do it," Thomas said.
Friends of Springbrook Park hosted two preschool walks in late September and early October and will host two more next spring. At the walk on Oct. 5, the children used miniature shovels, magnifying glasses, bug containers and other tools to interact with the natural environment.
"They (the children) can put a worm in there (the container) and leaves and take a magnifying glass and study it so they get hands-on experience rather than reading out of a book," Friends of Springbrook Park President Paul Lyons said.
Thomas, who was an environmental educator for Portland Public Schools for 30 years, caters the lesson plan to the seasons, the weather and spontaneity. For instance, during the walk on Oct. 5, the group found a slug and examined it through a magnifying glass and also checked out a few spider webs. The previous week, they found a variety of berries and squirrels.
"You never know what you're going to find when you come," Thomas said.
However, Thomas almost always discusses the connection between flowers, seeds and plants and the difference between evergreen and deciduous trees. The theme of the October walk was "We Fall Down," and Thomas taught the children about falling leaves during autumn. The children also dug underground with shovels.
"That's (digging) part of the exploring. I think what we're promoting in the behavior of the kids is to explore," Thomas said. "In order to explore, you have to go underneath the ground, because there's a whole world underneath. You have to go into the moss on the tree trunks and up into the canopy."
About 25 children showed up for the walk in late September, but Penny was accompanied only by her sister Lucy Cervantes and Reina Santiago during the Oct. 5 walk.
"Rain is a deterrent, no question about it," Lyons said.
But despite the low turnout, even Thomas learned something that day.
"I'm going to go home and look for all the animals that I would expect to find here (in the cave made out of ivy and tree roots) and find out what might hang out in that protected area," Thomas said. "That's the amazing part. You think after 30 years I would have known it all, but I don't. And so these kids can help me learn something new just by their enthusiasm and curiosity."