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“I see it! I see it!”
The children call out in excitement, peering up at the bird nests that are visible through the bare tree branches. On this atypically mild January day, they pause along the path of Evanston’s Ladd Arboretum and view the fowls’ creations.
This group participated in the Evanston Ecology Center’s EcoFreeze Winter Break Mini-Camp, which concluded Jan. 6, just one opportunity that the center is providing this winter to promote children’s awareness of nature.
“We saw about six or seven bird’s nests that looked really cool,” said Louis Fowler Gottlieb, camp participant and Evanston resident.
The Evanston Ecology Center is a member organization of the Chicago Wilderness Leave No Child Inside Initiative, which seeks to “re-connect children and families with nature and the outdoors,” said initiative coordinator Emilian Geczi.
Environmental educator Claire Alden said more children and new participants came to the nature-themed day camp this year than any of the previous years she has worked at the ecology center.
Outdoor activity allows children to unleash energy and get creative, said Brenda Fowler, mother of Louis Fowler Gottlieb.
“They can feel freer, and the play is more imaginative,” said Ms. Fowler.
Two separate groups of children attended the camp over two separate weeks, each of which had a distinct theme, Ms. Alden said. During the first week, which focused on animals that hibernate, they constructed an animal shelter in the Ladd Arboretum, she said.
The second week highlighted animals that migrate, and the children learned about bird flight and how to identify the appearance and calls of bird that do not migrate. They also visited the Grady Bird Sanctuary in the Ladd Arboretum.
Chris Day said the camp educated his son, Sam Day, about science and nature.
“For him to be able to go to a camp that does that, that’s something that we value as a family,” said Mr. Day.
Although Evanston’s more urban setting prevents Sam from experiencing true forests and a real detachment from city life, Mr. Day said, the camp allowed him to come into greater contact with the outdoors.
For Louis, outdoor time brings him interaction with other children, Ms. Fowler said.
“It’s, I think, easier for him to connect socially with kids who are running around playing some kind of active game,” she said.
Throughout this month, the Ecology Center will offer ways to keep children interested in nature, with a session on snowflakes and creating snowshoes and one on making bird-feeders, as well as the Feb. 18 “Presidents & Nature,” featuring activities for children in kindergarten through fifth grade.