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Nature Play & Learning

 

Nature play at TCS is play with purpose!

 

In our classrooms, in our science program, in our outdoor play space and gardens, in the woods, on field trips -- no matter the venue at The Children's School, our time in nature is time well spent.

 

We learn cooperatively and creatively. We navigate healthy risk-taking. We build our muscles for climbing trees, experiencing joy, and asking questions. Our health and our curiosity are nurtured along the way as we build community and learn to take action for the environment and our neighbors.  

Here are some of the many ways we connect kids with the natural world at The Children's School.
Explore with us!

Nature Play and Learning in Our Outdoor Space

The Bluff, the upper level of our outdoor courtyard, includes our water play space with a hand water pump, sluice, and boat, our mud kitchen, and our sand play area. Each space invites imaginative play that also develops problem-solving skills, math concepts (like capacity and volume), fine motor skills, and emotional literacy. 

Sand play takes on a whole new level!
Sand play takes on a whole new level!

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Items that invite or require collaboration
Items that invite or require collaboration

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An old hollow tree trunk sparks imagination
An old hollow tree trunk sparks imagination

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Sand play takes on a whole new level!
Sand play takes on a whole new level!

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The Bluff

Part outdoor classroom, part woodchip/lava pit, part building space. The Riverside is home to collaborative fort making, gross motor skill development, heavy work activities, creative game development, and a lot of laughter! TCS students have built teeter-totters, multi-room forts, gaga ball pits, epic obstacle courses, and wonderful friendships here. 

Natural features for climbing and games
Natural features for climbing and games

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A place for outdoor fun in all seasons
A place for outdoor fun in all seasons

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Teamwork makes better forts
Teamwork makes better forts

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Natural features for climbing and games
Natural features for climbing and games

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The Riverside

Our front yard on Oak Park Avenue holds a raised garden bed (thanks to a grant from Deep Roots Project) and a pocket prairie (thanks to a grant from West Cook Wilds Ones).  The TCS community comes together to plant, water, and care for our gardens as our students learn about life cycles, native plants, food insecurity, conservation, and eco-justice.

Our raised bed garden with edible plants
Our raised bed garden with edible plants

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Plants on the Bluff for young green thumbs
Plants on the Bluff for young green thumbs

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Vegetables do taste better when you helped them grow
Vegetables do taste better when you helped them grow

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Our raised bed garden with edible plants
Our raised bed garden with edible plants

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The Gardens

Nature and Science Weave Throughout our Curriculum

We work toward weekly class trips to the woods to spark children's imagination, creativity, and sense of wonder. Free play and exploration in nature develop observational skills, an appreciation for life and the environment. Group time in the woods builds collaboration and leadership ability. Students also help the forest preserve district in stewardship activity, cleaning out opportunistic plants and litter.

We go to the woods weekly if we can
We go to the woods weekly if we can

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We experience the forest's changes through the seasons
We experience the forest's changes through the seasons

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Friendship time experiencing the outdoors
Friendship time experiencing the outdoors

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We go to the woods weekly if we can
We go to the woods weekly if we can

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The Woods

Class field trips to botanic gardens, green industries and architecture, agricultural co-ops, and more, are often part of our school year. This demonstrates to our students the wider applications an understanding of nature can bring to community building, solving today's problems, and new career opportunities.

Expeditions to Chicagoland centers of nature learning
Expeditions to Chicagoland centers of nature learning

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Visiting an urban goat farm
Visiting an urban goat farm

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Learning the historical impact of natural resources like the Chicago River
Learning the historical impact of natural resources like the Chicago River

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Expeditions to Chicagoland centers of nature learning
Expeditions to Chicagoland centers of nature learning

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Field Trips

Classrooms are indoor venues for sprouting new plants, caring for a class pet, hatching butterflies and praying mantises, or raising trout minnows for conservation studies. Nature sciences frequently form the foundation of both group and individual project work. Whenever possible, teachers look for ways to integrate related nature studies and environmental stewardship into project topics.

Older students share discoveries with younger classrooms
Older students share discoveries with younger classrooms

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Hatching and raising trout to release in the wild
Hatching and raising trout to release in the wild

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Exemining the tiniest life forms
Exemining the tiniest life forms

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Older students share discoveries with younger classrooms
Older students share discoveries with younger classrooms

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Academics

Follow "Forest News"
with Mr. Will Hudson 

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Meet Mr. Will Hudson, our Middle Level Science teacher. Enjoy his insights in "Forest News" as he leads science-based exploration both during our time at school and in the woods.

More TCS Nature Play & Learning News!

Leah Schweitz

MEET Lea Schweitz,PhD, Our Nature Play and Outdoor Space ExperT 

Ms. Lea’s (she/hers) training as a nature play educator was formed in a variety of classrooms. As a high schooler, she was a Ranger Rick mentor for kids exploring the nature preserves of her Northern Illinois hometown. In college, she was a teaching and research assistant in remnant and restored tallgrass prairies of the Midwest. After graduate school, she taught adult learners philosophy, theology, ethics, and religion and science at the University of Chicago, Lutheran School of Theology, and the Zygon Center of Religion and Science.  
 

These experiences formed her deep commitment to providing access and opportunity for kids (and the adults who love them) to play and learn outside. For the past five years, her focus has been on nature play and outdoor education. At The Children’s School, this has included collaboratively building out the school’s nature play space. As Director of Children’s Ministries at Urban Village Church-West, she is innovating ways to bring healing nature play into faith formation. At Nature120, it includes supporting neurodiverse groups in nature play outings, developing community programs for kids and families to learn to play and breathe better outside, and designing backyard outdoor play spaces.

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