Chicagoland Kids, Rejoice: Opps to Play in Nature Abound

Young soccer players engage in Chicago Wilderness' team-building exercises in North Chicago. Photo by Cristina Rutter Photography
Young soccer players engage in Chicago Wilderness’ team-building exercises. (Cristina Rutter Photography)

Itching to get your kids a little good old-fashioned fun in nature? As Emilian Geczi of Chicago Wilderness explains in the myth, kids more fully connect with nature when they’re able to explore it hands-on. That’s why many forest preserves are beginning to open unstructured play areas, which allow children to “play and explore and use their imaginations,” he enthuses.

Ready, set, head outside to of these Chicagoland highlights:

Crabtree Nature in Barrington: At this 112 acres of woodland and prairie, kids will find a one-acre nature play area that provides a stepping stone bee dance, a sturdy rope spider web, a tree measuring station, a heron nest (with eggs) and a tree limb tent.

Close to Chicago, the Indiana Dunes is the first national park to open an unstructured play area. It offers the Nature Play Zone at the Paul Douglas Center for Environmental Education, which allows children and families to build sand forts and rock castles, climb trees, and use their imaginations to discover and play in nature.

Nature in the city. The Chicago Park District works closely with the Leave No Child Inside Initiative and offers myriad unstructured play tips and experiences for kids and their parents. Click here for a PDF with the deets. One standout example is the North Park Village Nature Center, a 46-acre nature preserve and educational facility situated within the 155-acre North Park Village campus.

Sports to Science. In Waukegan and North Chicago, where three out of five children are of Hispanic or Latino origin, Chicago Wilderness has launched a program with young soccer players to give young children nature-based enrichment. The youth soccer league participates in team-building activities, including building forts out of natural materials, at Greenbelt Forest Preserve in North Chicago.

Want more inspiration where that came from? Check out CW’s Leave No Child Inside.

— Mary Beth Sammons



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