When a child is playing outside and picks up a worm, his or her first reaction might be to drop it out of fear.
But changing that is one of many things a local early childhood learning center is hoping to do by getting kids comfortable with and knowledgeable about nature in its new outdoor classroom, which was debuted to families Friday.
The outdoor area at Catch A Star Learning Center, 424 W. Piper St., in Macomb includes hardy greenery, trees stumps, a place to dig in the dirt, a water barrel and various wood furnishings.
Kimberly Hare, director of Catch A Star, said the outdoor area first got going after the center won a $250 grant from Western Illinois University last spring for use on a sustainability project. Since, she said through a series of donations, such as $1,500 worth of reclaimed telephone poles, a slide from the park district and other efforts from parents, about $7,000 or $8,000 worth of work and materials have gone into the area.
"They're going to be the ones taking care of our earth. They need to fall in love with it," Hare said of the 167 kids with the center. "This gives them outside playing, outside problem-solving. They're going to see the changes in the wood as it deteriorates and ages. They're going to learn about life cycles with the butterflies out here."
On Friday, children tested out some of the area's features with their parents.
Porche Mickle of Macomb followed her 4-year-old son, Demetrius Rodgers, as he roamed around, digging in the dirt and filling up a bucket at the water barrel.
"He's loving it," she said. "He's very excited. I think he was most excited to play in the dirt."
Most parents said their children seemed to react well to the new space.
Area resident Mike Field said the outdoor area was somewhat of an extension of how his children, 2-year-old Logan and 4-year-old Kendall, played at home.
"I love it. We have a lot of this stuff. I let them dig in the dirt outside and pick up sticks and play with rocks. It's a lot like what we do at home," the father said. "Kendall's gone because she's just playing with so much stuff."
Hare said she'd been excited to see how the children reacted to the area. During it's construction, she said they'd inquire about when they could use what they called "the wood playground."
Now, the director said they're hoping to becoming a certified outdoor classroom. Catch A Star staff in two weeks are to attend training on outdoor classrooms in the Quad Cities, she said, so they can submit an application for official certification.
Page 2 of 2 - The process entails nine criteria through Nature Explore, an Arbor Association foundation. Certain features must be included, everything has to be labeled and a certain amount of greenery has to be planted.
"Right now, there's only 13 of them in Illinois and the closest one is in Peoria," Hare said. "So when (we) learned about that, that became a big goal. That was something I really wanted."