CEDAR FALLS — “What do frogs eat?” asked Katy Cantin. “Cheeseburgers? Chicken Nuggets?”
Nope. They eat flies, she told the group of tiny tots in the Hartman Reserve Nature Center learning lab.
“I ate a fly before,” a preschooler loudly volunteered.
About 25 toddlers and preschoolers participated in Hartman Reserve’s Nestling Naturalists program last week. It’s a monthly program for kids up to age 4 to learn about nature and its inhabitants. Weather permitting, the program is held outside, said Cantin, Hartman’s assistant program coordinator.
Over the course of an hour, the youngsters learn about habitats and the animals that live there, hibernation and migration. After Cantin reads a book or shares a story, the kids head outside to traipse around the reserve, where they’ve been known to find deer antlers and other signs of wildlife.
“It’s different each time. The last time we did birds,” Cantin said. “We went outside and looked for different kinds of birds.”
On Thursday, though, it was too cold outside for the kids — and the frogs.
“The frogs are sleeping when it’s cold,” Cantin explained to the group.
But the little ones got to see and learn about frogs and toads, including their life cycles.
“They lay eggs that look like eyeballs and are squishy like jelly,” Cantin told them.
“Jelly, like on toast,” a little voice chimed in.
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The kids also got to hear the sounds of different frogs. One sounded like a baby chick, and another like a sheep.
“I see lots of confused faces around the room,” Cantin said, smiling. “Not all frogs ribbit.”
But when Cantin walked around the room with Dr. Bumbles, an American toad, fascination replaced confusion.
The kids got to feel the toad’s bumpy skin. Some were shy. Others went for the gusto, like 19-month-old Leah, who touched the toad and then promptly put her finger in her mouth. Her sister, 3-year-old Lacy, was captivated by two turtles lumbering around in a nearby tub.
“He has a camouflage head,” Lacy said of the turtle using his tubmate as a stepping stone.
“It’s fantastic to have hands-on learning,” said their mom, Dianna Biekert of Waverly. “You can’t beat that. They are very excited.”
Next up was a tiny tree frog. Cantin roamed around the room, letting the kids feel the difference between the frog and Mr. Bumbles.
On the lap of her grandmother, Elise Johnson, 2, had no reservations about touching the frog’s smooth, slimy skin.
“We love the interaction and being able to actually touch the animals,” said Jean Johnson of Waterloo. “We love getting outside. This is a great way to teach kids to enjoy nature. She loves running around paths and picking up leaves and twigs.”
Cantin loves teaching little ones about nature. At this age, they’re full of curiosity and wonder, she said.
“They are just really fun, and they just like everything,” Cantin said. “You can be silly and weird and they don’t care. They love it. And fresh air is good.”
The next two Nestling Naturalist sessions are at 10 a.m. June 6 and July 18. The program is free, but a $2 donation is welcome.