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  • Top 5 Ways to Engage With Nature

    Created: 4/1/2020      Updated: 4/1/2020

    Year in and year out, our education team provides more direct teaching than any other museum in the city of Chicago. We used that experience and expertise to discover their top five ways for kids and studentsto engage with nature, and explore some support tips for caregivers and educators.

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    1. Make observations!

    Take a little time each day to do some noticing. Whether you take a walk around the block, observe something in your yard, or look at the tree out of your window, there is so much to observe! What changes do you see from day to day?

    Tips for Adults/Educators: 

    A naturalist is a scientist who studies nature through careful observations and asking questions. Encourage your scientist to see, hear, smell, and feel. Ask them questions like “What do you notice?” 

    You can help focus your scientists observations by using a small things finder (a popsicle stick with a dot on it) or a focus frame.

    Take it a step further and add observations to an online community science database! There are many platforms that you can contribute your scientist’s observations to. Some suggestions to get you started:

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    2. Record your noticings!

    Make the most of enjoying and sharing all of your observations by keeping track of them. Make a “nature notebook” to use pictures and words to record all the cool things you’re observing. Practice a scientific skill by doing some scientific drawing. Be sure to look closely to draw what you see--include details and use labels. Drawing is a great way to solidify understanding!

    Need an idea to get started? Try a nature window - pick a spot to record some observations each day and see what changes over time and what stays the same. Or pick a plant nearby to observe and notice seasonal changes.

    Tips for Adults/Educators: 

    A scientific drawing is a record of all of the great observations your scientist is making. Remind scientists that they don’t need to be a ‘good artist’ to do a scientific drawing, but rather a careful observer. Be sure to include details they are noticing and use labels.

    Check out this video to learn about the incredibly powerful effects of drawing on learning: Why Kids Should Draw More (edutopia video) 

    Scientific drawings can be done by scientists of all ages!

    • Early elementary: scientists focus on recording things they can see or feel.
    • Upper elementary: scientists may include things that they can’t see or feel but can see evidence of (observe plants grow, what do they need?)
    • Middle school: scientists may observe to understand interactions between living and nonliving things. 
    • Young adult/Adult variation: scientists may look at a larger scale by comparing and contrasting interactions happening in different ecosystems, or look closer in and add ideas to explain the function behind the interactions.
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    3. Ask questions!

    We are naturally curious, so embrace all of those questions. Put them on a wonder wall to come back to later. It’s okay not to know the answers to all of your scientists’ questions--take the opportunity to explore alongside them and ask your own questions to inspire more wonderings.

    Tips for Adults/Educators: 

    Use open-ended questioning techniques to help young scientists think and make connections. Open-ended questions: Require an explanation that doesn’t have one “correct” answer - (e.g. what do you notice about insect bodies vs. how many legs does an insect have?) Close-ended questions: Can be answered with a “yes” or “no” or one specific answer (do insects have eight legs? No. How many legs do insects have? 6)

    Gather your scientists’ questions on a wonder wall--post questions on post-it notes or jot them down on a piece of paper...capture them somewhere! And then group them together to help think about the types of things we’re wondering about the natural world around us.

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    4. Embrace the social emotional power of nature and wonder!

    Nature is a powerful tool in our social and emotional wellbeing! Take advantage of all it has to offer for us. Take some time outside each day--or bring nature indoors by bringing in natural objects and plants inside to explore.

    Tips for Adults/Educators:

    Utilizing nature, whether going outdoors or bringing natural objects inside is a great way to provide some whole child learning while at home.

    Child-led play and cooperative learning activities are important for our students, too. These activities help students learn 21st century skills like collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking. They also stimulate social-emotional growth by providing opportunities for scientists to set goals in their child-led activities and build positive relationships. P

    laying outdoors can solidify STEM content and practices by providing context for their learning.

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    5. Create a nature model

    Inspired by your exploration of nature? Make a model of something that intrigues you. Get your craft supplies - some paper for drawing or look for odds and ends in your recycling - to recreate and showcase all of the things you are noticing around you. Be creative and share what you’ve discovered!

    Tips for Adults/Educators:

    Making models allows students to communicate what they have learned and make sense of their observation. A model doesn’t require any special tools or materials - a model can be a drawing that showcases close observations, or a 3D model that helps scientists think about different parts and their functions, or how parts interact with one another. Scientists can also revisit their models and continue to add or modify as they discover more about their topic of interest.

    We hope these tips will come in handy as you help your young scientists learn all about nature and science while at home. We know homeschooling is a new world to navigate for many families, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have great science lessons at home.

    Don’t forget to subscribe to our new daily newsletter where we’ll be sending daily science and nature activities you can do at home.

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  • 7 Tips for Teaching Nature and Science at Home

    Created: 3/26/2020      Updated: 4/1/2020

    With many families feeling unprepared to teach at home, the Nature Museum has stepped up to introduce a revamped daily newsletter focusing around homeschooling. Each e-blast gives parents, caregivers, and educators a day’s worth of lessons focusing around a central nature and science topic. Now we know teaching at home doesn’t come naturally to many of us, so don’t worry – we are here to help. 

    Every day, Nature Museum educators work side-by-side with teachers in Chicago-area classrooms, helping them gain more confidence and feel more comfortable in teaching science class. We know that empowered and supported teachers lead to more time spent on science and to higher quality learning for students.

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    1. You don't need to know all the content!

    Take this opportunity to show your scientist that we are all life-long learners. Embrace the uncertainty and learn alongside your scientist. Remember: science isn't about knowing facts – it's a process of curiosity, wonder, and exploration. Instead of focusing on knowing facts, engage your scientist in the practices of science by encouraging them to ask questions, investigate, and share their explanations as they figure it out.

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    2. Spark curiosity and foster wonder!

    There are so many ways to do this, but one of our favorites is to bring natural objects inside. Have your scientist make observations and ask them what questions they have.

    Unable to bring nature in? Not a problem. Watch videos, look out the window, or look at some images. Then, add questions and observations to a wonder wall so you can come back and investigate them later! Here’s a great resource for you explaining the power of asking questions to your scientist.

    Try to find a way to keep track of your scientist’s inquiries, too! We’re heading into spring, so there will be plenty of change in nature to investigate.

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    3. Help your scientist make connections and drive their own learning!

    As scientists, we are not “learning about” but “figuring out”. Encourage and support your scientist in seeking out the answers to their own questions by asking them open-ended questions like, “What do you see that makes you say that?” “Why do you think ____ is doing _____?”

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    4. Build routines for learning – and repeat them daily or weekly.

    Things like nature journals, a wonder wall, and drawing for understanding are practices that your scientist can keep coming back to within the same thread of learning. Help them to continue noticing, wondering, and making connections! Check out this 2-minute video to discover why (and how!) drawing is such a powerful tool for learning.

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    5. Use technology to look more closely and think more deeply about the natural world!

    There are so many awesome ways to use technology to connect with the natural world--and contribute to the science community at the same time. Try using or downloading:

    -iNaturalist (and for younger learners, there is also Seek by iNaturalist)
    -Celebrate Urban Birds from the Cornell Lab or Ornithology
    -Project Budburst with the Chicago Botanic Garden
    -Chicago Wildlife Watch: you can actually help scientists understand the animals we share the city with by identifying the ones that have been observed in on camera.

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    6. Foster social-emotional learning through local nature!

    Nature is a powerful tool in our social and emotional wellbeing. Take some time outside each day–or bring nature indoors–to practice mindfulness and experience wonder, awe, creativity, connection, and feelings of joy and calm. Take some time to walk around the block, or give your scientists time for some child-led outdoor play!

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    7. Don’t forget: science learning happens at all ages!

    Exploring nature is appropriate and accessible for scientists of all ages. Our youngest scientists can use their senses to explore and notice what’s around them, while our older scientists may start to look for interactions/connections between living things and their habitats.

    We hope these tips will come in handy as you help your young scientists learn all about nature and science while at home. We know homeschooling is a new world to navigate for many families, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have great science lessons at home.

    Don’t forget to subscribe to our new daily newsletter where we’ll be sending daily science and nature activities you can do at home.

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  • The Nature Museum Comes to You!

    Created: 3/17/2020      Updated: 4/3/2020

    We hope you and your family are safe and healthy at home, but we know how difficult it is to be away from school, friends, and activities. That's why we're happy to provide you with this new email series, dedicated to a day's worth of nature and science facts, activities, guiding questions to ask your kids, and more. Check out the links below for each day's theme and activities, and then subscribe to the newsletter to receive more!

    Additionally, follow the Nature Museum on our social media channels for a behind-the-scenes look as we continue taking care of our live animals and butterflies! 

    Sign Up For The Newsletter

    #NatureMuseum – Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


    Past Wonder at Home Emails

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    Plants and More!

    Let's take a look at some of the plants you can find around the Nature Museum and in your own backyard! Read on to learn more.

    Originally published March 24, 2020

    Check out the Newsletter
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    All About Lizards!

    Although you can't see the lizards in our Dragons Alive! exhibit right now, we can take a closer look at some of them and also discover some of the lizards that call Illinois home!

    Originally published March 31, 2020

    Check out the Newsletter
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  • 6 Reasons Grown-ups (and Campers!) Love Nature Museum Summer Camp

    Created: 3/15/2019      Updated: 3/20/2019

    Believe it or not, summer isn’t too far away! Despite the Chicago cold, we’re getting ready for a summer of fun, exploration, and learning. Every year, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum Summer Camp welcomes dozens of campers across all of our sessions. Why do grown-ups and campers love it so much?

    6 Reasons to Love Nature Museum Summer Camp:

    • Summer campers outside

      1. Playing outdoors.

      It wouldn’t be summer camp without the chance to get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. That’s why our daily camp schedules are designed for campers to spend more than half their day outside participating in group activities, nature exploration, and more!
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      2. Connecting with cool critters.

      The Nature Museum is home to lots of amazing animals, and campers get the chance to see (and even touch!) a selection of them up close. These awesome interactions are paired with the day’s topic and relate back to Chicagoland wildlife.
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      3. Exploring and experimenting.

      With the Museum grounds as their classroom, campers are encouraged to get messy, explore, and dig into the world of nature and science.

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      4. Making friends.

      During our two-week sessions, campers get the chance to explore and play in small teams as well as larger groups. This provides plenty of opportunities to build social skills and make new friends.

    • Campers outside

      5. Opportunities for the whole family.

      Grown-ups and campers alike love our open houses and camp out. Camp families get the chance to connect with camp counselors and directors, and campers get to sing songs, play games, and highlight projects they’ve been working on.

    • Child touching turtle

      5. Nature in the city.

      The Nature Museum is located in the heart of Lincoln Park, making it easy to get to and from camp. Our unique location also gives campers the opportunity to explore Chicago nature up close.

    Want to experience Chicago’s nature camp for yourself? Click here to learn more about this summer’s offerings.

    Nicole Juppe & Rebecca Brokaw
    Nature Museum Camp Directors

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  • Sharing Our Story as a 2019 National Medal for Museum and Library Service Finalist

    Created: 3/8/2019      Updated: 3/11/2019

    I am very excited to announce that The Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum has been selected as a finalist for the 2019 National Medal for Museum and Library Service. The medal is the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries that make exceptional contributions to their communities, and only 30 museums and libraries in the country have been nominated. Medals will be awarded in May to 10 institutions.

    The award committee focused on our educational outreach, both in the Museum and across Chicago. As you know, education has always been an integral part of the Museum, dating back to our early Academy days. By 1900, we’d established ourselves as a leading educational resource for area teachers and students, and our impact has only grown since then. Today, we engage more than 1,500 local teachers and more than 50,000 students in more than 78,000 contact hours each year – that’s more hands-on teaching than any other museum in Chicago! Add that amazing outreach to the 321,000 visitors we welcome every year and the 700 C3 leaders we’ve trained. Our impact throughout the city is undeniable.

    To achieve this kind of outreach is no small feat, and we’re thrilled that IMLS is giving us the chance to talk about this on a national scale. This is truly the result of the hard work and dedication of our staff, volunteers, and leadership.

    We appreciate your support and look forward to continuing to positively impact our community through our immersive exhibits, family events, and in-depth education programs.

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  • How Can I Help Butterflies and Bees?

    Created: 1/17/2019      Updated: 2/14/2019

    In this series, we'll be addressing some common questions from visitors and readers. Do you have a science question that has you stumped? Ask our museum scientists via our form here and we'll answer it on our blog!

    Today’s Question: What are some simple things I can do at home with my kids to help preserve the butterflies and bees?

    There are a few simple things that anyone can do if they have garden or even a porch at home.

    Provide nectar resources

    Grow flowering plants if you have the space. Even potted plants or a container garden can provide a valuable food source for pollinators passing through. If possible, try to select plants carefully so there is something in bloom for the entire season, spring to fall. For butterflies, you can also look into host plants of butterflies common to your area.

    Provide habitat

    Pollinators don't just need food, they also need shelter. For an insect this can be small. For example, leaving a brush pile in part of your garden can provide nesting habitat for bumble bees. Raising the bed of your lawn mower and mowing less frequently if possible can also provide additional habitat. For native bees, you can purchase a "bee hotel" or bundle together an assortment of hollow bamboo sticks. Just be sure to either replace or disinfect your native bee homes each year to prevent spreading diseases.

    Limit use of pesticides

    Only use pesticides when absolutely required. Look into integrated pest management strategies for any specific issues in your garden that will help reduce reliance on pesticides.

    If you want to go the extra mile, you can look into further resources and get your garden certified as a monarch waystation (like the Nature Museum!). You can also help monitor pollinators by contributing to citizen science programs like BeeSpotter or iNaturalist.

    Special thanks to Emily for today's question!

    Allen Lawrance
    Associate Curator of Entomology

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  • Top 5 Reasons Parents Love Nature Museum Winter Camp

    Created: 11/26/2018      Updated: 11/30/2018

    The winter cold has settled in, we’re in the midst of the holidays, and Winter Break is just around the corner. This is always a special time of year for our staff, because this is when we are gearing up for Winter Camp. Every year, we give campers the opportunity to spend up to four days with us during this special Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum day camp and every year, we welcome more and more campers into this special program. We asked our camper families what makes this camp so special and they came up with this top five list that shows why the Nature Museum is the best winter camp destination.

    Top 5 reasons parents love Nature Museum Winter Camp

    • Winter campers

      1. Nature Museum Winter Camp works with your schedule.

      Register your child for one, two, three, or all four days of camp according to you and your camper’s needs. Our schedule works with yours.
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      2. Snow, snow, snow!

      We love exploring all that nature has to offer, even in our coldest months. What’s winter camp without a little fun in the snow?
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      3. Keep in touch with daily parent pages.

      Crafted by our camp staff, these emails provide a snapshot of the day’s activities, along with fun photos, and guiding questions designed to help spark camp conversation around the dinner table.

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      4. Science rules!

      Guided by our campers, our daily science activities connect back to your child’s classroom learning while encouraging investigation, curiosity, and wonder.

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      5. Up-close animal encounters.

      From turtle to snakes to butterflies. There are over 50 species that call the Nature Museum home and our campers get the chance to interact with a selection of them every single day.

    Want to join us? Learn more about Nature Museum Winter Camp here.

    Nicole Juppe & Rebecca Brokaw
    Nature Museum Camp Directors

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  • Studying the Smallest Creatures Makes a Big Impact

    Created: 11/2/2018      Updated: 11/2/2018

    A few Chicago monarchs in research study due at Day of the Dead this week in Mexico

    Their journey is precarious. It requires evading predators; enduring severe weather and food shortages; and crossing nearly 3,000 miles, one flutter after another. Yet they persist, and this week monarch butterflies from our Chicago region begin arriving in Mexico, just in time for Day of the Dead, when families remember those who have died and support their spiritual journey. The arrival of the long-traveled monarchs seems to magically coincide with this annual observance.   

    We hope that a few of the monarchs arriving in Mexico include some specially tagged butterflies that we released here at the Nature Museum during our Flutter into Fall festival on September 22.  As part of a collective research study of monarch migrations, tiny stickers with information to assist in scientific data collection are attached to the wings of a select few butterflies, that may be found in Mexico. The research helps us learn more about the mysteries of the monarchs and their great migration to the mountainous butterfly reserves in Central Mexico where they winter.

    This is just one of the many butterfly research projects our science team members at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum / Chicago Academy of Sciences manage and support. We also are doing critical work with other Chicago-region species which you may know.

    Earlier this summer I put on my waders and joined our team in the field when they monitored a wood frog study and smooth greensnake reintroduction and research project in Chicago area natural areas.

    While tiny brown frogs, slender greensnakes, bumble bees and fragile butterflies may seem small in the world of wildlife, they each represent an important species that is threatened by changes in the environment and by loss of safe places to live. Our conservation research team is committed to doing all we can to saving these beautiful, vulnerable, and amazing creatures, and I invite everyone who cares about nature to join us.

    When you visit the Nature Museum you can see these amphibians, reptiles, and insects up close and learn about what we can collectively do to protect them here in our region. Perhaps even in your own backyard.

    And while our Chicago region’s monarchs are wintering in Mexico, remember that there are always butterflies to experience in the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven.

    I look forward to seeing you here soon!

    Deborah Lahey, President & CEO

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  • Five Reasons Scout Families Love Bunking with the Butterflies

    Created: 9/21/2018      Updated: 9/25/2018

    Each year we host scout groups and families for a truly unique experience—an overnight in the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum! Never considered a "campout" quite like this? I asked our scout families why they love our Bunking with the Butterflies overnights and came up with this top five list that shows why the Nature Museum is the best place for an unforgettable overnight experience.

    Top 5 reasons scout families and leaders love Bunking with the Butterflies

    • Bob the Blanding's turtle

      1. Turtles and snakes and butterflies – oh, my!

      Interact with live animals and see some rarely-seen pieces from our scientific collection.
    • Chaperone with scouts

      2. Spend an unforgettable evening alongside your scouts.

      Have fun, take part in activities, and make memories together that will last a lifetime.
    • museum educator leading workshop

      3. We’ve got you.

      Museum educators will facilitate the fun – from hands-on science activities and games, to exhibit exploration and even tasty treats. Check out our action-packed agenda here.

    • child viewing butterfly

      4. Experience a magical morning in the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven.

      Watch the butterflies flutter about as they begin their day. Then, try your best butterfly yoga pose for a fun and relaxing start to your morning.

    • Bunking with the Butterflies patch

      5. Earn a sweet patch!

      Take home an exclusive Nature Museum patch, plus get a 10% discount in the gift shop for other awesome souvenirs.

    Want to join us? Learn more about our Bunking with the Butterflies overnights here.

    Sarah Anderson
    Director of Education

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  • Reintroducing Smooth Greensnakes

    Created: 8/8/2018      Updated: 8/10/2018

    Volunteers at the release

    July 25, 2018, was an exciting milestone for our conservation team. We initiated our first reintroduction effort of the threatened smooth greensnakes into a privately owned restoration site, managed by the Barrington-based Citizens for Conservation. Partnerships with private organizations like this one allow us to expand the footprint of our reintroduction initiatives in completely new ways.

    This reintroduction effort is part of the multi-partner Barrington Greenway Initiative, an ambitious project with the objective of linking habitat corridors and increasing biodiversity in the Barrington, Illinois area. Through this initiative, restoration work has been carried out across ownership boundaries to promote and sustain native habitats and wildlife.

    Placing smooth greensnakes into the soft release enclosure

    In conservation projects like this, everything takes time. The reintroduction of smooth greensnakes at this site is the result of years of habitat restoration work carried out by countless volunteers. In 2017, our team surveyed and assessed the site quality to evaluate reintroduction potential. We were excited to find that the site boasts a high diversity of native plants and appropriate habitats to support this fragile species of snakes.

    Meanwhile, we continued our efforts to monitor Lake County Forest Preserve smooth greensnake populations. Working closely with Lake County, we incubated and hatched smooth greensnake nests in 2017, and after almost a year of growth, we proudly released the first group of headstarted snakes into soft release enclosures on the Citizens for Conservation’s restoration site.

    Our soft release enclosures are essentially large outdoor pens built into the release site that give the snakes the opportunity to acclimate to their new environment while being protected from predators. During this time, snakes may increase their familiarity with the release site and catch insects that make up their diet. Based on past work with the species, soft release enclosures increase the snakes’ fidelity to the release site and limit excessive wandering movements. After two weeks, we take down the enclosure walls for the full release. But it doesn’t stop there. We’ll continue to monitor the site and reintroduce more smooth greensnakes into the area for years to come, all with the goal of establishing a sustaining, wild population.

    Allison Sacerdote-Velat in the smooth greensnake lab

    Sometimes we find ourselves focusing so much on the end goal that we forget to mark and appreciate milestones like this. Really, every step along the journey is a small reward in itself – discovering healthy adults in the wild, witnessing successful hatchings, and seeing newly-hatched snakes thrive in our conservation lab. But larger milestones like this give us the opportunity to reflect on the progress we’ve made as we work to give this threatened species a second chance.

    Click here to learn more about our museum-wide conservation efforts.

    Allison Sacerdote-Velat
    Curator of Herpetology

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