A few months ago, Brendan Allen, 3, and his 2-year-old brother Ryan were living in the concrete jungle of Manhattan. Now they're enjoying the woodlands of Westport.

Their "backyard" may have dwindled considerably -- the boys used to live near the 843-acre Central Park, but they have found a new playground in the 84 acres of wildlife sanctuary at Earthplace, the environmental center and nature preserve in Westport.

"They love to explore. They love seeing the deer and frogs, spiders and worms," Josh Allen, the boys' father, said Saturday as the brothers did some exploring in a pile of hay at Earthplace.

They participated in the Family Hay Bale Search, which had children sifting through the straw in search of tiny treasures and surprises.

Brendan and Ryan did their searching inside because the morning temperature was more fall-like, even though it was the last weekend of summer. Children who came for the afternoon session were able to climb through the hay outside because by then it had warmed considerably.

Margaret Ardwin, Earthplace's director of educational services and senior naturalist, and Jessica Boyer, 13, of Hamden, a member of the junior staff, pulled apart bales of hay and scattered the straw onto a tarp on the front lawn of Earthplace and carefully concealed dozens of nature-related toys and trinkets.

Matthew Lupinacci, 3, of Westport, dug deep, tossing fists full of hay aside in his quest for the treasure. He found a water pistol, spider ring, stickers and insect tattoos.

Masha Offengenden, 7, of Westport, and her sister Ellie, 5, found so many treasures -- including plastic bracelets and a tiny rubber snake, that their parents Irena and Dimitri requested that they put some items back for other children to find. Steve and Andrea Lupinacci suggested Matthew do the same, and he did so willingly, as did the Offengenden sisters.

"Daddy, do you want to help me bury everything?," Matthew asked as he removed some items from his bag and hid them in the hay.

Although the mission of Earthplace is to educate the community about nature and the environment, Ardwin said Saturday's event was strictly meant for fun, as is next weekend's Scarecrow-Making Day. But one boy -- Max Carver, 5, of Westport -- demonstrated his interest for and knowledge of bugs. Lifting a plastic beetle from the hay pile, Max announced that he had found a "long horned beetle," an invasive and destructive insect that damages trees. It has not yet found its way to Connecticut. Max also found a plastic centipede.

"I like bugs. They're cool and they have cool things about them," Max said, mentioning as an example that bugs have no skeletons. "All my animal books are about nature," he said.

Plastic insects were not the only things present Saturday. As children combed through the hay several real insects made an appearance including a bright yellow alfalfa butterfly, a dragonfly and a honey bee. Ardwin turned each visit into a teachable moment.

Scarecrow-Making Day is scheduled at Earthplace, 10 Woodside Lane, for Saturday, Sept. 24, 1 to 3 p.m. Participants should bring old clothes, a hat and a plastic milk jug. Earthplace will provide stuffing, glue, twine and recycled materials for the scarecrows. For more information, call 203-227-7253 or email info@earthplace.org.