Forays into nature tend to produce some of my family’s happiest “remember forever” moments. Whether hiking trails, exploring nature centers, bird-watching or leaf-collecting, these interactions with nature seem to draw us closer together, reinforcing our bond while having a whole lot of fun.
It turns out that despite the hustle and bustle, Chicago andsurrounding communities contain one of the most extensive systemsof urban open space around. Cook County alone boasts 68,000 acresof forest preserves, and the city and suburbs abound withopportunities to get out into nature.
Right in our own backyard
Research shows that amazing benefits flow from exploring natureas a family. According to the Children and Nature Network,connecting with nature not only provides physical and mental healthbenefits, but it also nurtures family bonds and encourages kids torespect and protect the earth.
However, a recent study by the Outdoor Foundation found thatchildren’s interest and experience with the outdoors is on thedecline, and a Nature Conservancy poll found only 10 percent ofkids report daily outdoor activity.
Exploring nature as a family
So what can we do and where can we go to buck the trend andnurture a love of the wild in our kids? Nature centers are afantastic place to start, with their hands-on experiences as wellas trails for hiking and sometimes even live animal exhibits.
Some of our favorite “don’t miss” spots include:
Our picks for nature in the suburbs
Features a large nature center with an extensive collection ofanimals (turtles, fish, frogs, snakes, birds, rodents, even askunk!), as well as the artifact collection of pioneer naturalistand explorer James Kennicott. Hiking trails and a pioneer villagesurround the nature center. Free admission.
Offers a wide collection of animals to observe (snakes, lizards,raptors, turtles and a bobcat, among others) and is adjacent to thebreathtaking Middlefork Savanna Interpretive Trail, a historicfarm, and a playground. Free admission.
Wildlife Discovery Center at Elawa Farm
Glencoe and Lisle
If you’re looking for a more cultivated, less “wild”
nature experience, look no farther than the ChicagoBotanic Garden or the MortonArboretum where families can wander the paths,
enjoying breathtaking landscapes, blooms, birds and more. Both
gardens offer specialized programming for children and
Chicago Botanic Garden and Morton Arboretum
As the name implies, this gem features an historic schoolhouse,as well as hiking trails and a visitor center complete withchildren’s activities, exhibits and live animals (turtles, frogs,snakes, birds, lizards, etc.). Free admission.
The Little Red Schoolhouse