Exploring massive mammals that lived in Lake County during the last Ice Age, discovering why animals play dead, identifying different species of plants and trees, and learning about bird flyways are just a few topics covered in school and Scout programs offered by the Lake County Forest Preserves.
Interactive learning, exploring nature and history and incorporating hands-on activities are key aspects that are woven into field trips, in-school programs, and Scouting programs provided year-round by professional forest preserve educators.
"We offer award-winning, expertly guided field trips designed to meet Illinois Learning Standards and the needs of individual classes," said Alyssa Firkus, environmental education manager at the Lake County Forest Preserves.
The programs have been well received by teachers, Firkus said. "The feedback we hear most is that the experience was engaging."
She added that a fourth-grade teacher from Buffalo Grove said, "The class was hands-on and correlated perfectly with what we teach. It was engaging."
There's an array of options. Environmental education programs include wildlife, nature and outdoor exploration while history education programs offer hands-on learning incorporating science, history and language arts. Both feature experts, local historians and naturalists, Firkus said.
Each program, which typically runs 45 minutes to an hour, is delivered at an appropriate age and ability level for the group. Field trip opportunities are offered at forest preserves throughout Lake County and at the Dunn Museum in Libertyville. Programs can be mixed-and-matched to allow several classes to attend on the same day or to fill a specific time frame.
Environmental programs cover a variety of topics including ecosystems, life cycles, habitat restoration, human impact on environment, geology of Lake County and green technology.
"Our goal is to get kids out of the classroom and into the forest preserves," Firkus said. "It's so exciting watching a child's face light up when they get outside or learn something new."
History topics offered by Dunn Museum educators include prehistory, early settlers, Native lifeways, and the Civil War, all with a Lake County focus.
"Students have the opportunity to learn from real objects and artifacts," Museum Education Manager Seleena Kuester said. "Diaries, letters, works of art and everyday objects from Lake County's past are just a sampling of items we use in our programs," she said. "The educators are passionate about teaching."
Many forest preserve education programs have earned state and national awards for excellence, Firkus said.
"We continually refine our materials and teaching techniques to stay on the cutting edge of education today," she said.
"All our educators stay abreast of current educational theories and teaching strategies," Kuester added.
Available school programs can be found online at LCFPD.org/school.
"We are accepting bookings for programs now," Firkus said.
In addition to field trips, Forest Preserve education programs and staff are ready to travel to provide programs in schools across the county. There are also self-guided programs designed for classes or groups of 20 or less. Teacher materials are provided.
Forest Preserve environmental educators also offer fresh, interactive science opportunities for the classroom. Educator Loan Boxes can be rented by classroom teachers and nonformal educators for up to two weeks. Each box comes complete with hands-on group learning activities, educational items and reference materials that support Illinois Learning Standards. The themes of the boxes are birds, mammals, insects or ecosystems. Activities are geared toward K-5 classrooms, Environmental Educator Eileen Davis said. To reserve a box, call (847) 968-3321.
Scout groups can participate in a school field trip program, or select programs based on badge requirements. To book education or Scout programs, begin by filling out a program inquiry form, or call (847) 968-3321. The cost averages about $6 per student with a group minimum fee of about $48.
"By giving teachers and Scout leaders tools and programs they need to help young people explore their community and world, we're ultimately helping to develop better citizens and responsible stewards," Firkus said.
• Kim Mikus is a communications specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves. She writes a bimonthly column about various aspects of the preserves. Contact her with ideas or questions at kmikuscroke@LCFPD.org. Connect with the Lake County Forest Preserves on social media @LCFPD.