Kids and Nature

Fourth Graders or Scientists? In Barrington They Are Both.

This fall 700 fourth graders hiked, measured native plants, studied effects of this year’s drought and explored three local prairies. These young citizen scientists were part of an ambitious collaborative program between Citizens for Conservation and Barrington District 220 as part of the Prairie Preservation unit of the district’s fourth grade science curriculum.

The goal of the Prairie Preservation unit of the fourth grade science curriculum is to make science come alive, but in the process they are also building lasting connections between kids and nature, a main goal of the Chicago Wilderness Leave No Child Inside program.

Time spent in nature fosters the healthy development of children. Outdoor exploration helps children manage stress and become resilient. Natural spaces stimulate children’s limitless imaginations and foster creativity. Children who connect with nature may be more inventive and better problem-solvers due to the hands-on learning that local nature provides.

Children who grow up spending time in nature are also more likely to be strong advocates for the environment when they reach adulthood which is critical for the long-term protection of our natural heritage.

The Prairie Preservation program applies conservation science through hands-on experiences. Teachers, parents and volunteers from Citizens for Conservation and Friends of Spring Creek Forest Preserves are instrumental in making the project work.

The program began with a school visit from an advance team of speakers from Citizens for Conservation. The advance team helped them prepare for their roles as citizens scientists and their day on the prairie. Once on the prairie, students hiked, measured plants and collected seeds of big bluestem, Indian grass and compass plant. The seeds will be used in a number of major prairie restorations in the greaterBarringtonarea.

Thank you notes from the fourth graders indicate that the opportunity for students to engage in the authentic work of “doing science” in Barrington’s distinctive prairie environment and connecting more with the natural world is enjoyable, educational and memorable.  For the first time this year, and as a response to students’ requests in previous years of the program, the citizen scientists were each given a packet of native Indian grass seed to plant in their home landscapes.

As the volunteers and teachers with Citizens for Conservation and Barrington District 220 showed, connecting students to nature can happen in the classroom, on the prairie and during family adventures. And now another 700 students have made that connection.

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