Wee Naturalists Program – University of Illinois Extension Office

I recently enrolled my 5-year old in the Wee Naturalist Program for the next four months. This is a recap of our first session, Winter Animals.

January thus far has been unseasonably warm so there is zero snow on the ground. Temperatures have been in the 40s and even 50s although we are scheduled for a dip into coldness.

We met at Russell Woods Forest Preserve, which has the closest nature center to our rural home. In fact, the Natural Resources Education Center houses the University of Illinois Extension Outdoor Education Programs, of which the Wee Naturalists is part of.

Led by Peggy Doty, the program started off with a relaxed classroom style lesson where we learned about the subnivian layer, and the winter animals found there. Kudos for Peggy’s enthusiasm, expertise, and ability to teach without “dumbing down”.

The class is geared towards 5 and 6 year olds, but these are sharp kids.

I can’t praise Peggy enough for her knowledge and skilled teaching. She is a wildlife biologist and naturalist as well as educator and she artfully kept the class on topic while entertaining the expected spattering of non sequitors and distractions from the kids.

After the lesson, we were treated to the story, Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. Interesting and fun read although a few animals were not accurately drawn, as pointed out by Peggy.

This is going to lead to sugar-antics

Next was a craft. We made edible snowpersons with enough sugar to power both my kids (who gobbled the snowthing later).

Then it was on to the highlight, for me at least, a hike in the woods. The sun was shining as we strolled along the path looking at bat houses, bird feeders, and a pollinator apartment complex built by a local Eagle Scout.

We didn’t see a whole lot on the hike (there were 15 kids) but it still was wonderful to hear about the local area and talk about what we could find. And we did see some squirrels and Black Capped Chickadees.

We are signed up for February, March, and April’s programs and both me and my son are looking forward to these.

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