Exploring Ballard Nature Center with Toddlers

Ballard Nature Center little girl running on trail

Toddlerhood is such a special season in the life of your child. Their little bodies are gaining strength, coordination, and new skills every day. Their big little brains are soaking in every new concept and experience. All of this constant growth can make it difficult for parents to keep up. You want to provide engaging learning opportunities for the kiddos in your life. You want to give them chances to explore and make connections for themselves. So, when you’ve seen all there is to see in your backyard or your local park, where can you go to let your toddler discover more?
Whether you’re an Effingham County local or you’re just looking for a fun family adventure, the Ballard Nature Center in Altamont, Illinois is a great place to get out, have fun, and learn with your little ones. The center has options for both indoor and outdoor exploration, so kids can get up-close and personal with nature all year round. From the visitor center to the trails, to the kids’ fishing pond, to the accessible observation deck, there is no end to the discoveries you and your kids can make together.

Is Ballard Nature Center Toddler-Friendly?

Yes! The center has offerings for nature-lovers of all ages. In the Visitor Center, your toddler is encouraged to get hands-on with a variety of displays, activities, and puzzles. Outside, the trails are all rated “easy” or “moderate” so your little one will be able to walk along with you while exploring the grounds. The center also has various handicap and stroller-accessible trails, decks, and piers so it’s easy to get around even when little legs get tired. On top of all that, the Ballard Nature Center staff provides multiple events and programs that are specifically intended for kids aged 2-5 years old.

Exploring the Visitor Center

The visitor’s center is really the heart of Ballard Nature Center. The exhibit room is packed with interactive displays created primarily by local artisans and naturalists. Most of these exhibits are designed with kids in mind. Your toddler can learn about the natural world with all their senses as they explore the hands-on displays and activities.

Let your kiddo look through the periscope to discover an underwater habitat. Then, watch them make connections and comparisons as they peer into the fish and reptile tank. Touch and feel various textures of nature. Get up close and personal with the birds and small animals that have been preserved and displayed. Let your toddler take the lead as they wander and discover all the exhibit room has to offer.

Before you leave, be sure to stop and sit awhile in the bird and wildlife observation room. The observation window looks out on a group of bird feeders and a water feature, both of which attract multiple species of birds and small mammals. Encourage your toddler to watch and rest a while.

Outdoor Adventures

When the weather is good, venture outside and take a walk on any one of Ballard Nature Center’s seven plus trails. These trails vary in length and surface type and are all considered easy or moderate in difficulty. Your toddler will enjoy walking the paths through the woodland, prairie, and wetland environments. Along the way, you can read to your kiddo from interpretive signs that provide more information about the plants and animals found beside the trails. Ballard Nature Center also features a handicap-accessible deck overlooking the diverse natural communities of the grounds.

A particularly unique feature of this nature center is the Kids’ Fishing Pond. Bluegill, redear sunfish, catfish, and largemouth bass all live in this pond designed to spark children’s interest in fishing. The hope is that kids who learn to fish will also become interested in the conservation and preservation of natural environments. An accessible fishing pier juts out over the pond, providing you with a safe spot to teach your tyke to fish or simply let your toddler watch the wildlife.

There are also two covered picnic pavilions on site. These eating areas are open to the public, but also may be reserved for private use. Bring along lunch or a snack and let your little one enjoy a bite to eat in the fresh air.

Rotating Programs
The naturalists and educators of Ballard Nature Center host a number of programs that rotate throughout the year. There are program offerings for just about every age group if you pay attention to the monthly events calendar on their website. Recent programs for the 3-5 year old age group have included a book, games, crafts, and a trail walk, all centered around a nature theme. Adult participation is required for these programs.

Additionally, the center puts on periodic community events for children and families. These programs vary depending on the season. If you want a great way to spend family time learning more about the world around you, check out the programs offered by the center.

Annual Events
In addition to the rotating programs offered throughout the year, the Ballard Nature Center hosts a few special programs annually. Each fall, Outdoor Day is put on by the local community. Artisans, historians, teachers, biologists, naturalists, and other volunteers come together to create this event for families and children. With live animal presentations, archery, fishing, a petting zoo, face-painting, children’s games, and more, this annual nature fair will amaze your toddler and the whole family.

Each February, the center puts on Family Science Day. For this event, Professor Brian Poelker and university student volunteers lead families in exploring a science-related theme through active participation and hands-on learning. Children are able to go from station to station and make discoveries while gaining a deeper appreciation for science. The whole family will love this event.

Whatever a child’s age, it is never too early to start learning from and about the natural world. Nature really is the first classroom and Ballard Nature Center takes this idea even further through their programs, visitor center, interpretive trail signs, and more. But beyond even learning, the nature center is a place to unwind in the great outdoors. Take your little one for a walk where you can both slow down, breathe deep, and reconnect with what matters to you. Getting to watch a tiny face take in new wonders is the most precious experience, and at Ballard Nature Center there are wild wonders everywhere.

These moments with your toddler are fleeting Let’s plan your session at Ballard Nature Center. Check out my outdoor photo galleries. Littles don’t stay little for long. So, reach out, and let’s start the conversation about your family photo shoot today.

While you are here, be sure to check out some of my other posts: