The Ottumwa Courier

June 11, 2013

Mud-rific fun

It's OK to get dirty at Pioneer Ridge's Toddler Camp

Courier Staff Writer

BLOOMFIELD — "It's mud camp! You're bound to get some on your pants.”

And with that warning, the muddy, dirty fun began at the Pioneer Ridge Nature Center's toddler mud camp Tuesday morning.

Naturalist Annette Wittrock shared her knowledge on the importance of soil with several youngsters and their families while they hiked around the nature center.

“Soil is the basis of our life,” she explained. “Without it, nothing else would exist. And most people probably don't explore it on a regular basis.”

And explore they did. The exploration started with magnifying glasses and a tool that pulls a core out of the ground. Wittrock was able to show the kids the layers of soil and the animals living in it, right in the dirt next to the shelter. They immediately examined it closely with their magnifying glass, just sure they'd see something special. This dirt stuff is serious business.

Just a few steps away from the building was a perfect example of how dirt can also be helpful. Horse tracks in the dirt from this weekend's riding were clearly visible in the still-wet ground. Yes, they were horse hoof prints and not the bear tracks many of the children were hoping for.

“Dirt can help us find animals,” Wittrock told them. “We can follow that track and we'll see where they stayed.”

Other tracks were quickly found as well – deer were plentiful, as were squirrels.

At the edge of the woods, since every set of eyes was now scanning the ground, the kids came across a surprise. Stretched across the trail was a mole tunnel. The mole was long gone, as they soon discovered by poking into the tunnel. This was a great way for Wittrock to explain how important it is to always be looking – you never know what you might see.

A fallen log in the woods was the perfect place to dig for bugs, just some of the creatures living in the dirt. With bug boxes in hand, the toddlers soon found ants, roly poly bugs, worms and even a cricket. The top of each box had a magnifier on it, so they passed them around to examine their finds. Then they were all released back into the wild for the next group to find someday.

On the way back to the nature center, everyone stopped at the pond for a little mud digging. With tiny fishing nets, they were able to scoop out some mud, drain out the water and search through for some treasures. They found everything from a clam to tiny bugs and a small fish. By this time, staying clean was forgotten and everyone had some of their mud specimens all over them.

The next toddler camp for 3- and 4-year-olds, smells, will be held at the Pioneer Ridge Nature Center on Highway 63 from 10-11 a.m. July 2. Discover how animals depend on sense of smell to survive and experiment with the sense of smell indoors and out. The cost is $5 per child. For more information or to register for the camp, call 641-682-3091.