Eco-Explorations Takes Students Beyond the Classroom

If you visited the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve in Fort Sheridan during a weekday this autumn, chances are you shared the preserve with a gaggle of schoolchildren as well, but they were visiting for more than a leisurely stroll.

These students were trying their hand at being naturalists by recording their observations of the preserve. They observed seasonal changes and compared the microclimates of the ravine, shoreline, and bluff areas. In preparation for their visits, students modeled the process of erosion in the classroom so they could better understand the impacts of erosion on-site. These trips allowed students to engage with nature while also helping teachers to meet the science curriculum expectations of the new Next Generation Science Standards.

This outdoor classroom experience is part of Openlands’ Eco-Explorations program. Eco-Explorations brings third grade, fourth grade, and high school classes out to the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve for experiential environmental education. This autumn, over 500 students have visited the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve through Eco-Explorations.

For many students, these trips are the highlight of the school year. For some, it is the first time they have visited the Lake Michigan shoreline.

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Classes that participate in Eco-Explorations are from a Chicago school that has partnered with Openlands through Building School Gardens. Twenty classes are participating this year, and each one will return to the preserve in the spring to continue their observations, as well as to study the preserve’s rare plants and birds.

Openlands is committed to engaging the next generation of naturalists through programs such as these. Thanks to generous funding from the Grainger Foundation, Eco-Explorations is in its sixth year.

The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is a public nature preserve and is open year-round free of charge. Plan your own visit.

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