Monday, July 21, 2014

Finding Nature at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair

It's fair time at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair! That means many families and others are heading out in droves to consume fair food, look at the exhibits, and listen to the entertainment. We also had to check out the new activities and see the boys' projects. I'm sure we will be back, so look for  nature filled updates.

A fun new experience (Thanks, Jayco for sponsoring it!) is the Kidz Science Safari. It's like a small, portable science museum. We love science museums! Strollers and wagons and such should be left outside. We left the stroller out and just took our valuables inside. No food or drinks are allowed either, which is understandable in a hands-on place like this. There were plenty of activities!


"Digging" for fossils is always a treat! There was a display board telling us what we found nearby. 

There were large geoboards, clocks run by potatoes, and tubes where the kids can put balls in and watch them get sucked around. They had to figure out how to close the circuit to get the balls flowing. 

There was a skeleton to explore, we looked inside the human body, made giant bubbles, and made our own course to roll balls down the chutes. Building science investigative skills builds nature skills and inquiry! 

There are also nature spots throughout the grounds. This set up is right by the information booth. I love the upcycled items! The flowers are beautiful throughout the grounds! My dad found this tree/bush near the goat barn. I need to do some sleuthing to figure out what it is! 


Of course, we needed to check on the boys' projects once we arrived at the 4-H exhibit buildings. My son was excited to see a ribbon sending his project to the state fair! To be honest, there weren't many entries in his category/level, but it's still fun for him! He explored various items that come from trees in a house in his display. Our other son is still in Exploring 4-H and wanted to learn more about Great Horned Owls. Having the kids do a 4-H project is cool on many levels. It lets them explore a topic (or many!) in more depth, meet regularly with other kids (we really liked the Pay It Forward Club this last year), and the parents and 4-H participant get free tickets to the fair. We've basically told the kids they have to do 4-H projects until they graduate so we can go to the fair for free. We did the math and it looks like we should be good for another 16 years! 


I really enjoy taking the time to look at the exhibits and will most likely visit this building in future visits as well. There are posts on recycling, aquatic animals, the botfly, etc. This rock project was a first time project and completely child driven! The boy was interested in rocks and wanted to learn more about them. Great! I shared about the Michiana Gem and Mineral Society meetings and field trips with a person who knows the boy. This is a great option for future geologists, whether professional or amateur! They hold a show each August at the St. Joseph county fair grounds which I thought was great!


There were other rock collections and wildlife exhibits as well. We started looking at what helps some projects stand out over others. We noticed they all had professional lettering, matted information and titles, and often some type of 3-D element. There is usually something unique or catchy about the project as well. I want my kids to learn from the projects that are there, taking clues as to what makes a good project, look for topics they may find interesting for future years, and learning from the information presented as well. 

I even found trees in the cake decorating! Cute! There is a whole section of recycled/upcycled projects. These projects help nature as things are reused and kept out of landfills. Many of the scrapbook exhibits showed natural spaces people have visited. It's fun seeing pictures of places we have been to, like Discovery Cove or Mote Marine aquarium in Florida. I'm glad others have connected with these cool places as well!

There are many options for nature related projects in the Exploring 4-H projects as well. I like that these are online and can be viewed/downloaded/printed to work on projects. It allows our kids to explore a few different options as they make decisions. Bugs, forestry, wildlife, dinosaurs, collections, oh my! 

The photography is also great! There are several projects related to color, nature, etc. that help the students explore nature more. I find them beautiful! 

There are usually displays outside this building. The boys found this tree inviting! They've been clinging to any tree they can find these days! I liked The Elkhart Truth photo booth nearby as well. I would insert "Outside" as part of the caption! 

We stopped by the Home and Family Arts building. My grandmother worked in this building for years and years and my aunt carries on the tradition. I like seeing what things people have made and submitted. This family tree and carved dragon REALLY caught my eye! I thought they were great! It's cool seeing the new projects, talent, and creativity of those in our community. A friend submitted several upcycled denim projects. She does great with these! There are also many nature inspired quilt designs and photos as well. 

Someone was demonstrating traditional wool thread spinning. It's always a treat to see natural fibers at work. I loved the display on Hidden Treasures of Elkhart County, mentioning many of the great natural spaces we have in the area, along with brochures for more information. Way to spread the word! These are places I regularly feature on Inside Outside Michiana!

Strolling through the commercial displays, I found a booth full of furs. Since I do a lot of nature programs, I was interested to see the variety of animals available and a lower price than what I see in the catalogs! This company is out of Michigan. Two Bears Trading Company also offers historical reenactment clothing and accessories. I'm glad I found it! 

I loved seeing this Farm to Market Driving Course put together for the younger crowd! We've seen similar ones at the Indiana State Fair. The kids get to drive a tractor through a "farm" course, picking up veggies, eggs, and more along the way. They bring these items to the market stand in exchange for a treat. What a great way to visualize how we get our food. There are even live chickens in the mix! 

I also liked this Garden Tic Tac Toe. Love seeing ways to play with nature! There is even a large corn bin for playing. We enjoy these at the fall markets we have visited in the past. 

Elkhart County Parks is nearby. You can visit the turtles, view the mounted animals and furs inside, or take a picture with extirpated animals! We love the programs and natural spaces through Elkhart County Parks!

The Miracle of Life Birthing Center is nearby. Here you can see momma cows and newborn (or an actual birth!) calves. We saw a calf born at Fair Oaks Farm--what a cool experience! Try to time it right to see a birth if you can. This little guy was born earlier on the day of our visit!

Of course we always enjoy visiting the red barn to see the animals up close. We always loved visiting Young MacDonald's Farm growing up. They suggest washing hands after touching the animals and being in the barns with animals. There are garden displays and more natural items in this general area.

As we left, I saw this sign! What a perfect invitation! Not only does the 4-H Fair offer many ways to connect with nature, but the program in general does as well. If you have children from 1st grade to 12th grade, there could be a perfect match to explore nature or other interests through 4-H. What a successful program! We also saw one of the hot air balloons going up as we left for the evening. I enjoy watching these early in the morning as well. We can explore weather, wind, heat, air, etc. through hot air balloons. Plus, they're pretty floating in the air. 

Watch for Part 2 later in the week! There is so much more we'd love to explore! A few more natural options:
  • Visit the animal barns. I love seeing the many types of poultry! Some of the chickens are beautiful! There are also neat rabbits, goats, pigs, and cows. We always like to visit the animals of people we know, too. Building community.
  • Kids Day is on Wednesday. There are a couple of cool scavenger hunts (like Path to Health), all kinds of contests and classes, and opportunities to learn more about the resources in the area. Plus $1 rides after  1pm! The lines are kind of long, but we can't beat the price as we explore cause and effect, physics, force, and more! 
  • Green Day is on Friday. There are special nature programs, scavenger hunt, recycling games, and special community displays.
  • Catch some of the shows. We did see the Chicago Boys acrobatics. They can do amazing things with the human body! There is a bengal tiger performance and sting ray experience in 2014 as well. I like that they change things out to have fresh items each year. 
  • Try a different type of food, like a lamb burger or rabbit bratwurst. We always have to have ice cream cones (and they're inexpensive)! Do you have a favorite fair food? 
  • Other items on the schedule . . . cell phone photo scavenger hunt, master gardener talks, farm to table cooking, green smoothie demo, longest apple peel contest, log sawing demo, fruit tree pruning, and more!
  • The IU Health Goshen tent usually has neat information about health and wellness!
  • There is a pretty rain garden on the grounds. They have classes at other times of the year on making your own. 
  • Commercial vendors also often have connections to nature. We look forward to exploring these more!
What do you enjoy most about the 4-H Fair? How do you connect with nature while you are there?