BLOOMINGTON - Kids threw gooey, red "eyeballs" against a wall. Toddlers put their hands into blue speckled Floam and played in warm "snow."
The Pantagraph's second annual Kids Expo was a hands-on and hands-in event for about 7,000 children and adults Saturday at the Interstate Center, Bloomington.
Youngsters tried magic tricks with Ronald McDonald, learned the art of quickly stacking cups with Fox Creek Elementary School students and petted animals ranging from a Japanese silky chicken to a cockroach or rabbit at the Miller Park Zoo display.
"This is very interactive," said Jill Garneau, a Prairieland Elementary School physical education teacher who attended with her two daughters, Natalie 4, and Renee, 6.
"We have things for kids of all ages," said LJ Lusk, community relations director for The Pantagraph.
She illustrated by pointing out a toddler curling kid-friendly weights while another ran on a mini-treadmill. In another spot, teens and tweens bowled and played Guitar Hero with the Wii game system.
Other children tumbled on giant inflatables and watched a variety of music and athletic performances with their families.
A circus atmosphere existed with Illinois State University's Gamma Phi Circus performers walking through the crowd on stilts and riding unicycles. They performed acrobatics for impromptu audiences.
Elijah Noll may be only 14 months old, but he learned firsthand about healthy activities and food, thanks to the event's health-oriented theme.
His father, Bob Noll, lifted him up to help him dunk a basketball, and even though he made a face when he tasted pineapple for the first time, his mother, Bridget, let him try three kinds of fruit he had never eaten before.
"This is the first time we've been here. Next year, he'll be about ready to do a lot more," she said.
One of the new exhibitors, Tim Guzinski, helped children get messy at his booth. When he and his wife, Jacquie, opened Make a Mess Kids Fun Center four months ago in Normal, he knew they'd be at the expo.
"We came by last year and saw what a good time families were having," he said.
Second-time exhibitor Deb Hoelscher, director of Eastland Chiropractic & Wellness Center, Bloomington, said: "It's better (this year). It's more interactive, and there's more variety."
A trio of friends exploring the expo together already had an advantage when it came to knowing about exercising and eating properly.
Dolly Suresh, 12, Nicole Crose, 11, and Natalie Pena, 12, all fifth-graders in Leisa Barbour's class at Colene Hoose Elementary School, Normal, are participating in The Pantagraph's Fit Kids fitness challenge.
For almost a year, they will chronicle their newfound knowledge in the quest for fitness.
When they weren't exploring, they were welcoming other children and families to the Fit Kids area sponsored by BroMenn Regional Medical Center, Normal, and tried some activities themselves.
While children played and learned, parents picked up information about how to keep their kids involved after the expo.
"There are programs I didn't even know about," said Teva Lasley of Bloomington. She discovered a parent-child horse-riding class for her son Dangelo Glass, 7. Another son, DeMarco Glass, 9, played musical instruments at the State Farm Insurance Cos.-sponsored Learning Zone as part of the Achievement Matters effort.
"We got handouts for space camp this summer and signed up for chess club," said Brian Rubey as he listened to his 7-year-old twins, Sean and Finn excitedly discuss their favorite event: the Ronald McDonald magic act.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.