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updated: 6/8/2014 6:31 PM

Kids get close to nature at Funfest in North Chicago

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  • Children taking part in Sunday's Kids Nature Funfest at the Greenbelt Cultural Center in North Chicago ready their nets for some pond scooping Sunday afternoon. The nets were dipped into the pond's muddy bottom to see what kinds of insects lived in the muck.

       Children taking part in Sunday's Kids Nature Funfest at the Greenbelt Cultural Center in North Chicago ready their nets for some pond scooping Sunday afternoon. The nets were dipped into the pond's muddy bottom to see what kinds of insects lived in the muck.
    Steve Zalusky | Staff Photographer

  • Giovanni Cava, 8, of Gurnee, dips his pond scooping net into the water at the Greenbelt Cultural Center in North Chicago during the Kids Nature Funfest on Sunday. Giovanni later proclaimed his find of a baby snail in the pond.

       Giovanni Cava, 8, of Gurnee, dips his pond scooping net into the water at the Greenbelt Cultural Center in North Chicago during the Kids Nature Funfest on Sunday. Giovanni later proclaimed his find of a baby snail in the pond.
    Steve Zalusky | Staff Photographer

 

It is all very well to look at pictures of trees on a computer or see nature on the Discovery Channel.

But it is another matter to experience nature first hand, feel actual breezes and dig in a pond for real, live insects.

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The Kids Nature Funfest, held Sunday at the Lake County Forest Preserve District's Greenbelt Cultural Center in North Chicago, gave children ages 12 and under just that opportunity.

Celebrated with the theme "Stick With Nature," the event was held in conjunction with the Chicago Wilderness Leave No Child Inside initiative dedicated to improving children's physical, social and emotional well-being through outdoor play and exploration.

As classic rock and disco blared over the PA system, children enjoyed snow cones before taking part in activities that were divided between the educational, like pond scooping, and recreational, like beanbag and basketball.

Chris Ayers, manager of the Greenbelt Cultural Center, wandered the area with a megaphone and one of the "stranger danger" whistles that were distributed to the youngsters. She said aim of the event was to show children that they can have fun outdoors.

"We really realize that today kids are just in the house in front of the TV or in front of the computer or doing everything electronic, and they're not getting out and they're obese ... and they're not having any 'natural' fun," she said.

"We are getting them out in nature. They are down at the pond and they are scooping up insects. They are going to play in mud. They are going to do hula hooping."

Sarah Delgado, who was visiting family in Beach Park, was there with her son, Antonio, 7, and daughter, Isabel, 8. She said her son was looking forward to basketball, while her daughter was interested in the crafts.

"Getting them off their electronics and getting them away from the TV is definitely always a good thing," she said.

One activity that attracted dozens of children was pond scooping.

Greg Shelton, a volunteer with the forest preserve, was working with children as they scooped up the muddy water to "look for insects that are actually in the muck of the pond," as well as take them to an area to identify them.

One of the scoopers, Giovanni Cava, 8, of Gurnee, in an excited voice, announced, "I found a baby snail."

Volunteers were also stationed in craft areas, showing children how to make clay and stick animals, as well as the many ways that a stick -- "the original toy" -- could be used in fun and creative ways. For instance, they demonstrated how to make a star wand -- a stick that is twisted at the tip into a star shape -- to cast magic spells.

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