Events for Kids and Families at Kane County Forest Preserve District

Nature by Stroller
Friday, April 25; 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at Dick Young Forest Preserve, 39W115 Main St., Batavia (Note: Please use the Main Street entrance.)
Bring your four-wheeler and the diaper bag, click the seat belt on the baby and enjoy a “guided stroll” with Naturalist Erica Lemon. We’ll take a relaxed walk on stroller-friendly trails and soak in the seasonal joys of nature. Fussy as well as quiet babies are welcome, interruptions are expected, and feeding and/or diaper stops are allowed! Advance registration is required. Call 630-444-3190 or e-mail programs@kaneforest.com to register. FREE

Summer Camp Open House
Saturday, April 26,12:00 to 4:00 pm at Creek Bend Nature Center, LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, 37W700 Dean St., Saint Charles, IL
It’s time to think summer! Stop by Creek Bend Nature Center to learn more about the Forest Preserve District of Kane County’s “Week in the Woods” Summer Day Camps and Twilight Camp. During this open house, parents and kids will meet with our naturalists and learn about the fun summer camp activities we have planned. You’ll have a chance to ask questions, and to pick up registration forms. You may register for any of our camps at the open house and/or turn-in any required forms at this time. FREE

Stepping Off the Path to Dig in the Dirt at New Nature Play Area in Highland Park

By Megan Anderluh, Chicago Wilderness Leave No Child Inside Intern

Climb. Listen. Splash. Build. Dig. Create. These are some of the words that decorate signs at the new Wander Woods nature play space at Heller Nature Center in Highland Park, urging kids to engage with different areas in different ways – just not too specifically.

“We wanted to make sure kids were learning motor skills and using their imagination,” said Jessica Soto, a Heller Nature Center naturalist deeply involved in the creation of Wander Woods. “Instead of being told what to do, we wanted the kids to experience curiosity – asking, ‘What’s going to happen when I dig this hole and fill it with water?’ And then they do it and find out.”

Playing with water at the Wander Woods area

Playing with water at the Wander Woods area

Wander Woods was born in response to the desire to offer families an opportunity to get off the hiking paths and actually interact with the trees, mud, sticks and trees in unstructured and imaginative ways – along with the fact that the nature center had a large space that wouldn’t be too affected by the play area’s footprint.

“We see a lot of parents sort of standing at the entrance to the space, looking in, not sure if they could bring their kids in. We’re like, ‘Come in!’ We want kids to touch everything, to break down the barriers between themselves and nature,” said Soto.

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Eagle Scout Leads the Building of Nature Play Area at Volo Bog

Sam Gibson, 15, grew up playing outside in nature. In fact, the outdoors are still his favorite hangout place.

He beams as he shares this about himself during the grand opening event for Chipmunk Woods, an outdoor play and classroom area at the Volo Bog State Natural Area in Ingleside, Ill.

Sam has had a lot to do with the day’s event: he coordinated 20 volunteers as part of his Eagle Scout project as they dug 90 holes and installed 900 feet of split rail fence to delimit the play space from the rest of the protected nature preserve. Stacy Iwanicki, Natural Resources and Education Coordinator at Volo Bog, expected the project to extend over three weekends. Instead, Sam and his volunteers finished it in one day!

Sam Gibson at the entrance to Chipmunk Woods

Sam Gibson at the entrance to Chipmunk Woods, located near the Volo Bog State Natural Area Visitor Center

In Chipmunk Woods, children are invited to explore — to turn over logs, build a fairy village or a fort out of found nature objects, balance on a log, and, most importantly, use their imaginations and share their discoveries with their parents and with each other. The Leave No Child Inside initiative is featured prominently on the play area’s entrance sign.

Building a fort with found nature objects at Chipmunk Woods

Building a fort with found nature objects at Chipmunk Woods

Ms. Iwanicki hopes that Chipmunk Woods will be a “neverending project”: she is already thinking of ways to transform the space to offer children different ways of interacting with nature. For example, she would love to create a spiral staircase that would offer kids a squirrel’s view of the land.

That sounds like another perfect Eagle Scout project!

For more information about Volo Bog, visit http://dnr.state.il.us/education/INTERPRT/volo/VOLOBOG.HTM

Building Teams, Building Explorers: Waukegan LNCI Partnership Connects Latino Children to the Outdoors

Outdoor recreation – from fishing and picnicking to gardening and playing with mud – is a part of our way of life. Chicago Wilderness believes that children and adults of all backgrounds have the right to play outside, experience nature, and engage in outdoor activities that have been passed down from generation to generation. But major demographic groups – for example, first-generation Latino immigrants – are vastly underrepresented among nature program participants and public land users in our region.

Young soccer players engage in team-building exercises at forest preserve in North Chicago

Young soccer players engage in team-building exercises at forest preserve in North Chicago. Photo credit: Cristina Rutter Photography

In Waukegan and North Chicago, Illinois, where 3 out of 5 children are of Hispanic or Latino origin, Chicago Wilderness members are working with cultural heritage, youth development, and social service organizations in the community to find new ways to better connect with Latino families. Organizations leading this collaborative Leave No Child Inside effort include Friends of Ryerson Woods, Lake County Forest Preserves, First Baptist Church of Waukegan, Waukegan Harbor Citizens Advisory Group, Chicago Botanic Garden, Waukegan Public Library and Park District, and others.

Some of the group’s strategies to bridge the gap between Leave No Child Inside programs and the Latino community are to build on what is familiar – such as gardening, picnicking, or soccer practices – and to provide relevant benefits for program participants – for example, life or job skills, or health-promoting activities.

Working together on a fort as part of the team-building program. Photo credit: Cristina Rutter Photography

Working together on a fort as part of the team-building program. Photo credit: Cristina Rutter Photography

One collaborative program developed by the group was delivered in April of 2013, when more than 50 middle-school students active in Waukegan’s Puro Futbol Youth Soccer League participated in nature-based team-building exercises at Greenbelt Forest Preserve, in North Chicago. Given that trust is one of the most important factors in engaging Latino families in programs run by public agencies, the Lake County Forest Preserves and Chicago Wilderness engaged a well-respected community leader, the youth soccer league’s coordinator, in developing and promoting the nature-based team outings. The program was designed to use an activity that the children were passionate about – soccer – to introduce them to nature. During the span of four weeks, the youth learned not only to work more effectively with each other, but also to build forts out of natural materials and solve other challenges that required them to work as a team. While the youth participated in the team-building exercises, their parents were introduced to the forest preserve site through bilingual interpretive hikes led by Friends of Ryerson Woods and the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Green Youth Farm. Funding for the program was provided in part by TogetherGreen, a partnership of National Audubon Society and Toyota.

A well-earned s'more at the program's conclusion. Photo credit: Cristina Rutter Photography

A well-earned s’more at the program’s conclusion. Photo credit: Cristina Rutter Photography

The collaborative effort validated the Waukegan Leave No Child Inside network’s shift from simply distributing information about upcoming programs to engaging in a two-way conversation with the Latino community about program outcomes that are valuable to everyone. As the youth soccer league’s program coordinator put it in an editorial in a Spanish-language weekly, “this is an effort to give the children more than soccer – it’s an opportunity for them to discover and learn about nature.”

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Unveils Nature Play Area

“We want to change visitors’ hearts and minds from fear of the outdoors and apprehension to caring and appreciation.” Kimberly Swift, Education Programs Manager at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, summarized with those words the intent behind the national park’s newly unveiled Nature Play Zone at the Paul Douglas Center for Environmental Education, which allows children and caregivers to build sand forts and rock castles, climb trees, and use their imaginations to discover and play in nature in thousands of other ways.

Ms. Swift, welcoming visitors to the nature play area at Indiana Dunes

Ms. Swift, welcoming visitors to the nature play area at Indiana Dunes

The Nature Play Zone is part of a broader effort at Indiana Dunes to inspire families to connect with nature in their own backyards, community parks, and their neighborhood national park. “The seed for the Nature Play Zone was planted by all of you,” continued Ms. Swift as she addressed educators from ten other conservation agencies and organizations from Illinois and Indiana at a tour of the play area in April. “Our staff visited the nature play areas at your organizations and participated in the Nature Start training at Brookfield Zoo and Leave No Child Inside workshops all over the region.”

The Play Zone at Indiana Dunes is one of the first, if not the first, unstructured play area in the entire National Park system. So Ms. Swift and her colleagues had to ensure that the deeper engagement with nature made possible by the Play Zone outweighed any potential damage to the environment. “It helped that the site was very disturbed to begin with,” said Ms. Swift. The area used to be a railroad junction until a few years back.

There were also many questions of liability and risk that had to be addressed by the park before it could open the play area. But after careful consideration, the Nature Play Zone welcomed its first visitors in April of 2013. The first 1,000 families received a free explorer backpack, to further encourage them to come together around nature-based activities. “We hope that families will use the backpacks on return visits or simply when they go out into their backyards or neighborhood parks. That is our common goal,” said Ms. Swift, “to leave no child inside wherever they are.”

For directions to the Paul Douglas Center, visit http://www.nps.gov/indu/planyourvisit/deec.htm

For a listing of additional unstructured nature play areas in the Chicago Wilderness region, visit http://www.chicagowilderness.org/index.php?cID=298#play_areas