Clark Brendan

Brendan Clark, 2, and Lily Elsea, 2, look for cardinals from the bird viewing window during the C is for Cardinal minicamp at Rock Springs Nature Center.

Herald & Review/Jim Bowling

DECATUR — Naturalist Jenny Garver held up a bird’s egg.

“OK, if I pass this around, you have to promise not to put it in your mouth,” she told her audience, which consisted of 1- to 4-year-olds. They were in the midst of learning about cardinals, which are Illinois’ state bird, during a minicamp offered through the Macon County Conservation District.

The lesson included hearing the calls of male and female cardinals, learning to distinguish between them, listening to a bird-related storybook, making a cardinal craft and snacking on gummy worms. The children also trotted down the hall to the Rock Springs Nature Center’s large picture window, where they counted bird feeders and named the colors of the leaves.

There was also the “Cardinal Pokey,” a modified version of the “Hokey Pokey” that called for the children to dance with their “red bellies” and “orange beaks.”

The minicamps are offered regularly by the district as a way to familiarize young children with nature-related topics, while also providing fun activities and a chance to interact with others their age.

Jennifer Wester said her 2-year-old daughter, Ruby, has been coming to the camps since February and looks forward to them. They even sing the camp songs at home.

“Last night, before we went to bed, I told her, ‘We get to go to camp tomorrow,’ and she was all excited,” said Wester, of Decatur. “She really looks forward to it.”

Alison Elsea of Argenta brought her 2-year-old daughter, Lily. The minicamps are structured and give Lily some involvement with nature, which she relishes.

Her favorite subject so far was bugs and worms.

“She still talks about it,” Elsea said.

For more information about the minicamps and other conservation district programs, visit www.maconcountyconservation.org.

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