Illinois hunting and fishing

Kids to get a head start on the great outdoors

March 25, 2011 at 07:41 AM

Just to be clear, there are no bears at Lincoln Memorial Garden.

Betsy Irwin, the Garden’s education coordinator, wants preschool children to learn that and a lot of other important facts about nature — including how not to be afraid of it.

A new program for preschool-aged children, “Fiddlehead Naturalists,” starts April 19.

A fiddlehead is a young fern that is not yet unfurled.

A group of nine children at the Garden for a birthday party got a preview on Thursday. On a nature walk, Irwin stopped to show them a mound of earth made by a busily tunneling mole.

“What do you think made this?” she asked.

“A bear,” replied one of the group gathered around.

Irwin quickly dispelled the notion that any bears will be encountered on this day. Then she explained what moles do and what they eat.

There was no more talk of bears, and from that point on, the kids repeated what they learned each time a mole tunnel was encountered.

“Once they learn it, they know it,” Irwin said. “It amazes me how much they know at this age, and they’re never afraid to give an answer.”

She said the Fiddlehead Naturalists series is designed to teach core subjects such as math, language, science and art through nature.

“The kids have a great sense of wonder,” Irwin said. “They really are the best naturalists.”

Irwin has researched other preschool naturalist programs and found about 20 nationwide. One of the common goals was to get kids outside, regardless of the weather.

Jim Matheis, the Garden’s executive director, said preschoolers have to be comfortable being outside.

“Once they are comfortable and are used to being outside, then they want to learn more,” he said.

Then comes appreciation, and finally a willingness to help care for the natural world.

“This (preschool age) is when a lot of their values are formed,” Matheis said. “They will draw on these experiences the rest of their lives.”

On the trail, children attending Eamon Mahoney’s fifth birthday party saw early spring flowers, touched tree bark and mosses, and tried to put their arms around a chinkapin oak tree more than 250 years old.

“It’s amazing to see what they discover,” Irwin said.

At least there were no bears — this time.

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528.

Want to go?

What: Fiddlehead Naturalists spring series

Who: Children from 3 to 5 years old.

Where: Lincoln Memorial Garden & Nature Center, 2301 East Lakeshore Drive

Why: New program offers opportunity for children to experience and learn more about nature.

When: The six-session series meets once a week from 9:30 a.m. to noon Tuesdays beginning April 19. Kids must be 3 years old by April 1. Children must be toilet-trained unless a parent attends.

Cost: $60 for members and $75 for nonmembers for all six sessions. To register, visit or call 529-1111.

Meeting dates and topics

April 19: Wildlife is Everywhere!

April 26: Looking at Leaves and Finding Flowers

May 3: Grow As We Go

May 10: Wiggling Worms

May 17: Hiding in Plain Sight

May 24: Who Lives in A Tree?

Illinois hunting and fishing