Environmental Education

Our programs get kids out into parks, learning about nature, and bringing stewardship to Chicago’s parks and Cook County’s forest preserves. Our programs serve all ages, from kindergarten-8 (Nature Along the Lake) and high school (Earth Team).

Nature along the Lake

In 2002 Nature Along the Lake was implemented in order to offer Chicago Public School (CPS) grade school children (grades 2-8) an opportunity to study science in an outdoor setting, using nature as a classroom.
The Nature Along the Lake (NAL) program uses the 14-acre nature preserve at Montrose Point and the natural area at the South Shore Cultural Center to serve as “nature’s classroom.”
Since its commencement in 2002, the NAL program has grown significantly. During the Fall of 2008, over 700 CPS students participated in 29 field trips to the lakefront. During the 2011-2012 school year, over 800 students from 13 schools participated in NAL field trips.

The Nature Along the Lake program provides lakefront park experiences that are customized to the CPS curriculum. Students learn about the lake as a complete habitat system. Through this program, they experience birds and their migratory patterns, aquatic life, native plants and trees, as well as other outdoor science topics. They learn that our local environment is part of a larger ecosystem: that a clean environment does not happen by accident, but is the result of  people who care about leaving a healthy environment for future generations to enjoy.
Children in this program obtain experiences not usually found in a city setting, nor offered in indoor classrooms. They participate in a variety of seasonal, hands-on environmental activities, building their comfort in nature.
Friends of the Parks work directly with teachers and administrators to focus on class-specific topics. For example, students reading Hoot in school will learn about owls and other birds of prey, and go on a bird exploration in the Magic Hedge.

The Nature Along the Lake program is structured to provide a broad experience with hands-on, experiential environmental science.

NAL_Binoculars in Hedge


The Nature Along the Lake program is structured to provide a broad experience with hands-on, experiential environmental science.

Classes begin the NAL program with their fall field trip. During this inaugural visit to NAL, students learn about: Bird identification, bird ethology, hiking etiquette and sustainable hiking practices, binocular use, and migratory birding patterns. After an interactive lecture, students are led on a birding hike through Montrose Point’s “Magic Hedge,” to observe and study the principles that they have just learned.

The second visit to NAL is during the winter months, for teachers and classes that dare to brave the cold winds of Chicago’s lakefront! During this visit, students learn about the geography and formation of the Great Lakes, as well as learning about the varieties of species that populate Lake Michigan (both native and invasive). Students then head out for a lakefront hike, oftentimes when the lakefront is covered in sheets of ice. Afterwards, students record their observations, and then take part in a poetry lesson, learning to express their scientific observations through verse.

The third field trip to NAL comes at the end of the spring semester. Some classrooms will engage in a fishing clinic with our partners at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, learning the laws and customs of recreational fishing, followed by fishing off of the pier at Montrose Harbor. Other classes will study dune formation at the Montrose dune, one of the only naturally occurring dunes in Illinois.

At the beginning of their school year, students complete a brief proficiency survey, to determine their level of science comprehension. This allows our educator to customize each class’s NAL curriculum to maximize its learning potential. At the end of the school year, students again complete the proficiency survey. This allows Friends of the Parks to measure the effectiveness of the NAL learning experience, and ensure that students are getting the educational experience they deserve.
After a year of the Nature Along the Lake program, students will have greatly enhanced their in-class science learning, instilling in them a belief that science is not only important, but also enjoyable.

As in past years, Earth Day 2012 featured an exciting collaboration between Nature Along the Lake, Disney Magnet School, and our corporate volunteers from PepsiCo. PepsiCo volunteers mentored individual Disney students through a beach clean-up, birding hike, dune hike, and an art project using recycled and re-purposed materials.

Nature Along the Lake Park Rangers Program
The Nature Along the Lake Park Rangers program is a Friends of the Park membership program that rewards students for their achievement in the Nature Along the Lake program. Students who participate in a full year of NAL field trips, who show proficiency in environmental concepts taught at NAL, and who participate in a stewardship activity during the school year will become Park Rangers.

Park Rangers will receive a certificate of achievement, as well as a Friends of the Parks Park Rangers badge to showcase their accomplishment. They will also become members of Friends of the Parks as a reward for their achievement.

With opportunities like this, Friends of the Parks hopes to build appreciation for the environment by offering positive, exciting outdoor learning experiences that students will carry with them into the future.
Interested in bringing your elementary school classroom to a Nature Along the Lake program? Contact Colin Taylor, Director of Environmental Education for Friends of the Parks, via e-mail: or via telephone: 312-857-2757 ex. 20

Earth Team

Earth Team Environmental Education Program

Earth Team

The Earth Team aims to empower teens through environmental education and action in their community. The program brings apprenticeship opportunities to teens that lack local environmental programming and involvement in their parks, preserves and high schools. The Earth Team is an innovative science program designed to serve teens with varying levels of scientific skills and environmental experiences.

In conjunction with After School Matters Science37 initiative, the Friends of the Parks hires teen apprentices to learn and participate in a hands-on environmental science, stewardship and conservation program at their community park, forest preserve or high school. The teens work alongside scientific professionals and learn marketable skills for future careers.  Teens in our program are motivated to become leaders in the community.  Teen apprentices help to build a safe community through community outreach in environmental education and participation in the parks and preserves.


For 10 weeks in both fall and spring semesters, teen apprentices work with FOTP’s environmental educators to improve their local communities and parks. This fall and spring we will have Earth Team programs at Carver Academy, Humboldt Park, and Horner Park.

The Earth Team teens will focus on such topics as forestry studies, environmentally-conscious social media, community outreach, and park stewardship.

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This vital partnership with After School Matters helps prepare teens for the future as environmentally conscious stewards of their communities.

Interested in joining the Earth Team?  Contact Colin Taylor, Director of Environmental Education for Friends of the Parks, via e-mail: or via telephone: 312-857-2757 ex. 20