What is the Nature Along the Lake program?

The Nature Along the Lake 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 Nature Along the Lake program has grown significantly. During the 2014-2015 school year, over 850 students from 15 schools participated in Nature Along the Lake 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.

Classes begin the Nature Along the Lake program with their fall field trip. During this inaugural visit to Nature Along the Lake, 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 Nature Along the Lake 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 Nature Along the Lake 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 Nature Along the Lake 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 Nature Along the Lake 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.

Here are some photographs from recent Nature Along the Lake sessions: