Now that summer break is ending children will soon be hearing the age old question “What did you learn today?” Meaning of course, what did you learn in the classroom today?
Naturalist David Polis famously asked another question, “Must we always teach our children with books?” His alternative… “Let them look at the mountains and the stars up above. Let them look at the beauty of the waters and the trees and flowers on earth. They will then begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.”
The Forest Preserve District of Cook County is an excellent place for children to get the type of education that Polis suggests. As strong supporters of the Leave No Child Inside initiative, we are always working to create opportunities to get children outside exploring the natural world and enjoying experiences that require no batteries, hard drives or remote controls. With the continued digital boom and shrinking public green spaces, it’s more important than ever to get children plugged into the outdoors.
Whether in the vast natural classroom of the preserves, at our six nature centers or in traditional classrooms across the county, FPDCC naturalists work hand in hand with teachers to offer an array of environmental education programs.
Our educational programs have been professionally developed to be flexible, to meet the needs of any curriculum, and align with Illinois Learning Standards. We are dedicated to making nature accessible for children of all ages and abilities, and offer a range of options to both get children out into nature as well as to bring nature into the classroom. Programs may feature almost any aspect of biodiversity, wildlife or ecology in the region, with an emphasis on the role of people in ecosystems, and the health of the natural world and all who live in and depend on it.
Educators all over the county are taking advantage of opportunities like our popular Mighty Acorns stewardship program designed specifically for grades 4 – 6. And with the increasing focus on service and giving back, more and more schools are taking part in projects that offer students the opportunity to get out into nature, explore hands-on science lessons and volunteer all at the same time. Thousands of high school students complete their required service learning hours through our Teen Volunteer Program.
Laura Merlo, a Chicago teacher who enjoys bringing her students to the preserves, said, “As a high school teacher in the city, it’s difficult to find opportunities for my students to… see real woods, and to experience Illinois’ natural beauty. The forest preserve gives us an amazing opportunity to get outside into the forest and do some community service at the same time.”
In addition to our regular offerings, we work very hard to create or co-sponsor an engaging calendar of public events and recreation opportunities that focus on nature, education and fun! Be sure to check out what’s happening this month in the Events section and check back regularly at fpdcc.com/events for full details.
Whenever you’re ready to begin your children’s or your own natural education, the forest preserves of Cook County are ready and waiting for new and old students alike. Head out on your own and see what you can learn, or logon to fpdcc.com/education for more information on participating in more formal education programs.