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Springbrook Park walks debut

Educational activities for preschoolers are blended with outdoor exercise

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego resident Sharie Andrews and 4-year-old Rylan get in touch with nature during Preschool Walks in the Park on April 8 in Lake Oswego's Uplands Neighborhood. The Friends of Springbrook Park-sponsored activity continues April 15, April 22 and April 29.Lake Oswego resident Robbie Hennig gazes down at his 5-year-old daughter, Ruby, who was shyly pressing her face into his leg.

Educator Sue Thomas had just made an effort to spark Ruby’s interest in nature for the new Preschool Walks in the Park program, put on by Friends of Springbrook Park. FSP is a nonprofit that supports and maintains Springbrook, a 52-acre urban nature area in the Uplands Neighborhood.

Ruby wasn’t intrigued — at least not just yet.REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Former Portland Parks educator Sue Thomas led the first Preschool Walks in the Park on April 8 in Lake Oswego.

“She said she wanted to go to Chuck E. Cheese’s, and I said, ‘We’re not going to do that, we’re going to do this,’” Hennig says.

The day, Friday, April 8, was simply too beautiful to spend inside, Hennig explains. The sun filtered through maples and oaks, dappling the faces of a crowd of parents and 20 children from throughout the area. They stood near a hiking trail leading into Springbrook Park, and they all were pioneers of a brand new program that the Friends are launching with the support of the City of Lake Oswego Parks & Recreation.REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Cody Hill, 5, gets a close-up look at a tree specimen.

Last week’s program centered around trees, and the other dates of the Friday morning classes, all 10:30-11:30 a.m., will be: April 15, flowers; April 22, birds; April 29, bugs. April 29 is Arbor Day.

Anne Lider pitched the idea to other FSP members after hearing about programs once led by Thomas. Thomas is recently retired after more than 30 years as a Portland Parks educator. Lider, whose grandkids are 2 1/2 and 5, wants to make sure Springbrook is in good hands in the future.

“We want to know who’s going to be the next stewards of the park,” Lider says.

The program is technically for ages 2-6.

“But, we’re not asking for ID,” says Sara McKean, Lider’s co-leader for Preschool Walks in the Park. McKean just wants people to maintain a much-loved site.

“Any time of day there are people in this natural area,” she says. “This neighborhood would be so different if it was just houses.”

She also hopes other neighborhoods’ Friends groups take up the idea and coordinate with the City to create their own nature walks for kids.

“We’ll provide the supplies,” McKean says.REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Sue Thomas points out some tree details to the children.

At last week’s class, Thomas was working her magic to draw in the children and fascinate them with the beauty and science of the natural world. Holding up two tiny green sprouting things, she explains to the assemblage that these little plants are young trees.

“Does anyone know what this is called?” she asks, pointing to one part of the plant.

“Roots,” says Rylan Andrews, 4, whose family lives in Lake Oswego.

She gestures to another area of the tree, and asks if anyone recognizes it.

“Trunk,” says Aiden Ruelas, 5, whose grandparents, Bill and Paula Vokoun, are LO residents.

By now all the kids are either messing with the digging tool, paintbrush, magnifying glass and magnifier with a cup to capture insects they’d found in the buckets they’d all been handed. Or, they are staring at Thomas as if she holds the secrets of the universe. Or, they are simply transfixed with the green world around them.

“Look up there,” says Aiden’s little sister, 2-year-old Lucia Ruelas, pointing to a tree with sweeping branches dressed in moss and lichen.

“These trees are 1 years old,” Thomas says, bringing the crowd’s attention back to the tiny trees. “Is anyone here 1 years old?”

A few kids call out their ages, regardless of whether they are 1 or some other age.

Then Thomas gets everyone’s attention after asking what it’s like in the wintertime.

“Cold,” the whole crowd, adults and kids, intones quietly.

She says winter’s when many plants just don’t feel warm enough to grow.REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Holden White, 4, studies a tree leaf.

After that introduction, she leads them onto a Springbrook trail, where she’d stashed things that didn’t belong such as a banana, a pencil and “Where the Wild Things Are” doll to help the children develop observation skills.

“Get dirty,” Thomas instructs them as the group marches down the path. “That’s a good thing about ‘in the woods.’”

Then she taught them about a plant with conveniently soft leaves.

“It’s called ‘thimbleberry’; another term for it is ‘nature’s toilet paper,’” she says, her eyes shining but her voice never wavering from its serious tone.

But, it was serious work because developing children’s curiosity and appreciation for nature will create adults that care about the wild world, she says.

“That’s something nature does: It’s the ‘wow’ factor,” Thomas says. “Once you’ve got that, you get into the sequence of action.”

As a child grows up, those actions can be preventing littering or even someday lobbying the legislature to preserve a natural area, says Thomas, who once led programs at Hoyt Arboretum in Portland’s 410-acre Washington Park.

As they walk, Megan Big John, Lake Oswego Parks & Rec’s natural areas and athletic fields crew leader, has a quick question. Big John asks 2-year-old Caleb Cramer, a Keizer resident with Portland metro connections, if he wants to hug a tree. Caleb complies, readily embracing its mossy trunk as Big John snaps a picture and the other adults smile at him.

“It’s a nice tree,” Caleb whispers.

“He’s a nurturer, a sweetheart,” says his grandma, Jane Cramer of Portland. “He loves dogs or babies or trees.”REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Cody Hill, 5 (left), and Holden White, 4, take a moment to hug a tree.

The crowd makes another stop at a fallen tree disintegrating to the point where its once solid wood makes a fine soil for other trees to dig their roots into, becoming a nursing log. Two boys take turns striking the tree with their digging tools to look for insects thriving in the rotting wood.

Ruby walks up to her dad and holds up her little insect-magnifying cup.

“I’ll look for bugs with you?” she offers, a smile curving across her face.

“Sure, I’ll look for bugs with you,” Hennig tells her. He pauses to say there’s nothing wrong with Chuck E. Cheese’s, “but on a day like this?” The park, with all its creepy crawlies and useful plants, was the place to be.

By Jillian Daley
503-636-1281, ext. 109
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What: Preschool Walks in the Park

When: Friday mornings, 10:30-11:30 a.m. The April 15 walk will focus on flowers; April 22, birds; April 29, bugs.

Where: Springbrook Park. Meet at the entrance to Uplands Elementary School, 2055 Wembley Park Road.

Cost: Free; sponsored by the Friends of Springbrook Park.

Special Note: Bathrooms are available.

Learn more: Visit www.springbrookpark.org, call 503-860-8665 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..