Lake Forest Open Lands offers environmental education programs designed to complement local school science curriculum through hands-on, outdoor learning experiences. These programs take place in our preserves and are led by Lake Forest Open Lands’ education staff with assistance from trained volunteers (learn more about our VOLES program).

Looking for a program you don’t see?  Or have an idea for an existing program?  Please contact us to discuss it!

Nature Explorers
PreK | 1hr | any season

After understanding that nature is a home to plants and animals, students learn what it means to be good guests in these homes. While meeting some furry, feathered and even green Lake Forest residents, students will understand how to be gentle with their natural environment and keep it healthy. The program culminates with exploration activities that strengthen spatial awareness and observation skills.

Tree Treasures
PreK | 1hr | Fall

During a guided fall walk, students will discover tree treasures great and small. From food to shade, students will understand why trees are important to animals and humans alike. After gathering some colorful leaves, students learn to sort and categorize by color, shape and size ending with a fall surprise!

Sensing the Season
PreK/K | 1hr | any season

This program uses a series of fun, whimsical sensory activities to introduce students to native ecosystems while refining their senses and observational skills. Students experience seasonal change first-hand, especially if students return for an additional field trip during a second season. No matter the season, children will discover nature’s treasures and new ways to explore the world around them.

Storytime Adventure:
The Salamander Room

K/1st gr. | 1.25hrs | spring

After reading The Salamander Room, students will venture out into the preserve to find the perfect habitat for their very own salamander. Along the way, they will learn about the four needs of life and meet some other critters that call Lake Forest Open Lands home. Students will also better understand our needs as humans and how we can affect the survival of animals in our community.

Storytime Adventure:
The Mitten

K/1st gr. | 1.25hrs | winter

This program brings to life the classic children’s tale The Mitten, by Jan Brett.  The adventure begins inside with a reading of The Mitten.  After discovering the hidden story within the book, students head outdoors to find out how a curious mole, a rabbit and other native animals squeeze into a warm mitten. After the animals are scattered by a big bear sneeze, students help each animal find their way home while learning about how they survive the harsh winter.

Birding: Our Feathered Neighbors
K/1st gr. | 1.25 hrs | spring/fall

After discovering what makes birds a unique group of animals, students will identify eight common birds by sight and sound.  Then, using their observation skills, they head out on a hike to search for cardinals, chickadees and other feathered friends.

Winter Birds
K/1st gr. | 1.25 hrs | winter

Students will learn what makes our local birds unique and what they need in order to survive the winter.  By investigating the brown bag lunches of some local birds, students will decide which birds needs to migrate to find food during the winter months and which can stay.  Students practice their observation skills as they head outdoors for a wintery walk to look for signs of birds.

Wetland Habitats
1st gr. | 1.5 hrs | spring

Students will visit Lake Forest Open Lands’ infamous Jens Jensen pond to discover who calls this wetland home. Using dip nets and field scopes, students will uncover a variety of watery residents. Students will learn that a habitat is a home to the animals and plants that are able to meet their needs of life there.

Roots, Stems, Leaves, & Seeds
1st/2nd gr. | 1.25 hrs | spring/fall

On the way to the savanna, students will discover hidden boxes filled with gifts for a special plant friend. Each child will find his or her own plant friend and give it the gifts it needs to live: sun, soil, air and water. Students will learn about the functions performed by roots, stems, leaves and seeds through hands-on activities and understand how each part is essential for plant survival.

Insect Discovery
1st/2nd gr. | 1.5 hrs | fall

Students will discover the diversity of insect life hidden in the prairie while netting for grasshoppers, beetles, and other tiny friends. They will learn to distinguish insects from spiders by learning about the anatomical features that set insects and spiders apart.  Students will have a chance to get up-close and personal with these critters by using magnifying lenses, guide books and observing their unique characteristics.

A Seed's Journey
2nd gr. | 1.5 hrs | fall

Students will discover the amazing variety of ways in which seeds travel during this hands-on, interactive program. While walking in the prairie, students will find suitcases and postcards left behind by three adventurous seed travelers. Through exploratory activities and games, students will learn about the amazing diversity of seeds and understand how their unique structures help them travel.

Wetland Discovery
2nd/3rd gr. | 1.5 hrs | spring/fall

Through a series of clues, students will uncover the identity of a mystery wetland animal while on their way to the pond. Students learn about metamorphosis as they see the lifecycle of the mystery critter first-hand.  Once at the wetland, students explore the underwater world of aquatic insects, amphibians and more using dip nets and field scopes. The program concludes with a game of survival that illustrates the importance of wetlands and how environmental change can affect the plants and animals that live there.

Food Chains and Webs
2nd-4th gr. | 2 hrs | any season

Through hands-on training, students will become “Food Chain Monitors” and take a close look at the world around them. First they will learn about the transfer of energy within food chains, from producers (plants) to secondary consumers (meat-eaters), and discover the vital role that decomposers play. Like detectives, they will then head outdoors to gather evidence of actual food chains. To conclude their training, students will build a food web to illustrate how every living thing is connected.

Prairie Exploration
3rd/4th gr. | 1.75 hrs | fall

Through hands-on activities, students will discover the challenges of living in a sunny, dry ecosystem and the adaptations that allow flowers and grasses to thrive in the prairie. Through a look back in time, students will understand why this natural community is dependent on periodic fires and the impact that humans have made on this rare ecosystem. They will search for insects using nets and bug boxes to gain a greater understanding of the biodiversity supported by the prairie. Solo time will immerse each child as they take time to record their observations either through drawing or note taking. Finally, a restoration activity allows students to help protect the prairie they have just come to know.

Wetland Adaptations
3rd/4th gr. | 1.5 hrs | spring

Students will visit a native wetland and uncover the underwater world of aquatic insects and amphibians. Using dip nets and field scopes, students will discover the special adaptations that allow these aquatic critters to survive in their watery world. This hands-on investigation helps students learn about the many life stages of animals that we don’t often associate with water.

Winter Tracking
3rd-5th gr. | 1.75 hrs | winter

Tracking is a bit like being a detective; discovering clues and piecing together what happened and “whodunit.” After learning to identify the tracks of common, local animals, students will create their own tracking field guide. They will then head outside to search for tracks and other signs that animals leave behind. Clues will be discovered and mysteries solved! Making inferences, observation skills and staying in the present moment will be emphasized.

Trail of Time
4th/5th gr. | 1.5 hrs | fall

Students take a walk through Earth’s history on the Trail of Time. Along the way, students learn how changes in geologic history and human activity have shaped the local ecosystems we see today. The end of the trail brings the class to present-day where they learn about the negative effects invasive species have on surrounding flora and fauna. By completing a restoration project, students will discover how they can make a positive impact on the health of our natural areas that lasts for years to come.

Ravine Adventure
4th-6th gr. | 2 hrs | spring

During their field trip to McCormick Ravine, students will observe first-hand how water changes the shape of the land and in turn, how features in the land affect the flow of water. Students will learn about the geologic forces that created the land and how those forces continue to shape the ravine-bluff-beach ecosystem today. On a one mile hike through the beautiful and fragile ravine woodland, students learn about glaciers, glacial deposits called moraines, erosion and wave action.

Prairie Ecology
High school | 3 hrs | fall

Students start off their morning by learning about the history of Illinois’ prairies, from pre-settlement to today and the unique characteristics of this ecosystem. They will observe the adaptations of local plants and animals that allow them to survive in this harsh environment. Students spend time getting to know the diverse flora and fauna of the prairie by drawing detailed sketches of plants, surveying the diversity of an area, and insect collecting. During the final portion of the program, students will learn about how they can positively affect the future of Illinois’ prairies and have a chance to collect some seed for future plantings.

Water Quality Testing &
Macroinvertebrate Sampling

High school | 3 hrs | spring/fall

Students will catch and identify macroinvertebrates in the Middle Fork River. Using their sample, they will determine the water quality of the ecosystem. Background information on the river and its watershed will be given so that students can speculate on the reasons for their results. During the program, students will be immersed in the riparian ecosystem and will leave with an appreciation for the diversity of life supported there. This program is the perfect complement to chemical water testing in the classroom.