A couple of years ago, I taught a lesson about Midwest ecosystems in a fourth grade classroom on the far south side. Two weeks later, I returned to the same classroom, but before I could make it through the door, several students began excitedly shouting, “We saw a wetland! We saw a wetland! It’s right behind the school!” (And I’m not talking about moderate excitement; they were “I just won a million dollars” excited!) They couldn’t believe that the wetlands they had learned about in the classroom – cattails, ducks, and all – could be found right here in their neighborhood. Just behind their school, stuck in between the busy city streets, here’s what they had found:
Over the past several years, we’ve ramped up our efforts to connect students to the nature in their neighborhoods. Last month, as part of these efforts, I traveled around Chicago to photograph wetlands in different areas of the city. We know that many teachers aren’t able to take their students to visit wetlands, so we wanted a chance to bring those wetlands – the ones right in their neighborhoods - into the classrooms.
Can kids who live near McKinley Park learn to appreciate that their local wetland supports living things that aren’t found on most city blocks?
Can students in Lincoln Park get excited about turtles sunning themselves near their school?
Can school kids on the northwest side learn about bird migration by studying a Green Heron in Humboldt Park?
We think we have the answers to these questions: YES! ABSOLUTELY! OF COURSE! But let’s not forget that these connections to nature are always there, waiting for people to experience them, and not just in schools. Get out there and find out what’s going on with the nature in your neighborhood, and when you find something cool (which you certainly will!), we want to hear about it!