man holding a red-tailed hawk

The Edgar County 4-H Fairgrounds was recently host to nearly 200 fifth graders from Paris, Kansas, and Shiloh schools. Sponsored by University of Illinois Extension, Edgar County Farm Bureau, and Farm Credit Services, Conservation Day 2019 aimed to increase awareness of the earth’s natural resources and how students can help protect them. By spending twenty minutes at eight different educational stations, area fifth graders had the chance to learn by listening, playing games, and participating in experiments.  

One of the favorite activities seemed to be the watershed demonstration and rainfall simulators taught by Illinois Extension’s Watershed Outreach Associate Jennifer Woodyard and Commercial Agriculture Educator Jesse Soule. Using a model of a typical plot of land, students added loose soil, fertilizer, trash and manure and watched what happened when it rained. Of course, all of this was simulated, but students could easily see where rain traveled and collected and how it can be altered by natural and human activities.  

At the forestry station, Tom Hintz from Illinois Department of Natural Resources based out of Lincoln Trail Park, brought many samples of tree branches with leaves to show students the benefits of each tree and what animals might live in each one. He also invited the students and their families to come for a nature walk at Lincoln Trail Park south of Marshall to see the trees for themselves.  

Susan Sloop, Illinois Extension 4-H Youth Development Educator, manned the station where students learned about weather, specifically, water capacity in clouds.  Once in pairs, students used an eye dropped to saturate a cotton ball and counted how many drops it took before the cotton ball “cloud” began to rain. Students discussed factors in nature that affect rain, and what happens to rain once it falls. 

Other stations included Britta Baker from Enerstar teaching kids how they can help conserve energy at home, Van Grissom from Illinois DNR with live aquatic animals found in Illinois, Paris High School FFA Advisor Kyra Hutchings, along with FFA students, teaching the fifth graders the difference between prey and predators, Mary Perry from Perry Farm east of Paris who spoke about the pollination cycle and how their farm grows flowers for the protection of pollinators, and Illinois Extension Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists with a station teaching kids how to sort trash into items that should be recycled, composted or go to the landfill.   

The highlight of the day came after lunch when Mark Booth from Take Flight! Wildlife Education out of Indianapolis, captured everyone’s attention by introducing Rose the Red-Tailed Hawk to the crowd.  Using humor, theatrics, imitating animal sounds and of course, live birds, Mark helped the students understand the importance of respecting nature. Other birds introduced were an American kestrel, barred owl, and a lanner falcon.  According to Mark, “keeping our eyes to the sky helps us keep track of the health of our planet.”   

Conservation Day is an annual event for area fifth graders. University of Illinois Extension would like to thank the Farm Bureau for sponsoring lunch and drinks, and Farm Credit Services for the generous donation to sponsor the Take Flight! program.