The Best Ways to Teach Kids About Nature in Chicago Southland
By K. DeShawn Smith published July 14, 2020
Kids learn best by doing, so the best way to teach them about nature is to get out and experience it. Fortunately, this is easy to do in Chicago Southland. There are so many places to enjoy nature that you might forget you’re so close to the city. Step outside and teach your kids about their natural surroundings.
Hit the trail
Get your kids out on the trail to learn about nature. Do some research on the area and its wildlife and plants before you go. Share what you’ve learned once you’re on the trail. The Thorn Creek Trail System has 21.9 miles of trails that travel through wetlands and woodlands teeming with natural splendor. Follow the Cal-Sag Trail along the Cal-Sag Channel and the Calumet River. One highlight is the stretch of trail that runs past Lake Katherine Nature Center & Botanic Gardens in Palos Heights. The Palos Trail System takes you to Cranberry Slough Nature Preserve and Bullfrog Lake.
Visit a nature center
Chicago Southland has a lot of nature centers ready and waiting to immerse kids in the natural world. The Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland is a standout with its walking trails, animal displays and pioneer cabins. The Little Red Schoolhouse in Willow Springs opened as a nature center in 1955. Before that, it was a one-room schoolhouse from 1886 to 1948. Explore the trails and visit the exhibits and animals in this historical setting. The Irons Oaks Environmental Learning Center has wooded trails with wildflowers and wildlife. It also offers environmental education and adventure programs for groups.
Note: Many nature centers and forest preserves are closed because of the Coronavirus pandemic; others are open but bathrooms and other buildings remain closed. Some, including Forest Preserves of Cook County, offer virtual nature talks. Check the centers’ websites for updates and information on virtual learning experiences.
Extend your stay in the great outdoors by camping in Chicago Southland. Camping teaches your kids to explore, appreciate and respect nature. Pitch a tent with your family at the Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve. You can also camp in the Forest Preserve District of Will County and the Forest Preserves of Cook County.
Visit the past
Step back in time to pre-settlement days at Indian Boundary Prairies in Markham. This remarkable prairie preserve has five different areas of native prairie land. It’s considered one of the best prairie preserves in the Midwest. Part of it is a National Natural Landmark. This glimpse of the past is full of native plants and wildflowers such as Dutchman’s breeches, butterflies, insects, birds and other wildlife.
Make a splash
Teach your kids about wetland habitats while playing in the water at Monee Reservoir. This area includes the 248-acre reservoir, a nature preserve and a 46-acre fishing lake. Fish, mink, opossums and more than 100 species of birds call this area home. Bring a picnic, fishing poles, a canoe or kayak and enjoy a day at the lake.
Getting out with your kids and learning about nature is good for your kids, and it could be good for nature. Nurturing a love of nature can encourage the next generation to protect it. Have your kids help pick a few adventures on this list, then let their curiosity and wonder lead the way.
K. DeShawn Smith caught a fish on his first camping trip, and he’s been hooked on the outdoors ever since, whether viewed from the deck of a luxurious ski lodge or a hike-in campsite deep in the woods.