Ruby Wester, 2, is taught about animal activity in the winter during the W for Winter Mini Camp at Rock Springs Nature Center.

Herald & Review, Jim Bowling

DECATUR — Identifying the color of a blue jay is pretty obvious for most, but for a 2-year-old, it’s serious business.

The purpose of Wednesday’s “W for Winter mini camp,” same as all of their camps, is to make learning fun and to get kids of all ages outdoors. Rock Springs regularly hosts the one-hour mini camps for ages 1 to 5. The events are tailor-made by naturalist Jenny Garver to expose children to the natural world in what may be their first experience.

“We do see a lot of kids afraid of nature,” Garver said, referring to times when children in her programs have been scared to go into the woods because they thought the deer would eat them.

Not Ruby.

As Garver explained what animals can be found in the woods around the Rock Springs nature center during winter, Ruby hugged a stuffed deer toy she named “Bambi.” At age 2, Ruby is already a mini camp regular. Her nametags from each camp adorn the door to her woodland animal-themed bedroom back at home.

“It’s a great program,” said Ruby’s mother Jennifer Wester. “She really enjoys it and I want her to learn about nature.”

Garver read a winter story, and then they crafted a snowman. Against a backdrop of large, fluffy snowflakes Ruby explored outside the nature center with a magnifying glass. She shyly answered questions such as “what color is that bird?” or “is snow warm or cold?” before heading inside for “snowman buttons” otherwise known as cookies.

Even if attendance is sometimes low because of bad weather or parents who may be worried about the $10 fee, Garver said the programs are important.

“There’s only so many things we can learn from TV, books or school,” she said.

Garver cited research that children who spend more time in nature do better in school, saying that even very young children absorb information in their own way by touching and exploring.

“It’s always interesting to see what they come up with.”

The next mini camp is M for Moon from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, for children 1 to 5 and 1 to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, for ages 3 to 5. There is a $10 fee. Each camp includes a craft, activities and an outdoor hike. Register for upcoming events online at or by calling (217) 423-7708.


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