Chicago Wilderness helping families access region's open spaces


By Cindy Richards


When you think about all the research that says children need to spend more time in unstructured play, you might say they have a right to spend time in nature.

Turns out, they do.

The Illinois Legislature passed the Children's Bill of Outdoor Rights last year. It says children should have the opportunity to: Discover wilderness-prairies, dunes, forests, savannas and wetlands; camp under the stars; follow a trail; catch and release fish, frogs and insects; climb a tree; explore nature in neighborhoods and cities; celebrate heritage; plant a flower; play in the mud or a stream; and learn to swim.

Thanks to Daniel Burnham and other visionary early leaders of Chicago, it's easy to give kids all those experiences close to home, says Melinda Pruett Jones, executive director of Chicago Wilderness.

The area that stretches from southeastern Wisconsin through Northwest Indiana is a "real mosaic of dunes, wetlands, woodlands, forests and prairies," she says. "Because we have the spaces that aren't thousands of miles away in a big national park, the effort to connect folks to nature is very achievable."When children "have nature around them, they relax, burn off energy, and construct their own play," Jones says. "It's a much richer environment than we can create artificially."

But, she says, not all parents are comfortable making sure their kids get to experience the outdoors. For those parents, Chicago Wilderness, a coalition of groups that works to preserve natural spaces and connect them to people, has created a series of "Leave No Child Inside Explorer Days" that help parents learn about nature alongside their children.

Two August programs are planned at North Park Village, the 155-acre nature preserve at 5801 N. Pulaski, Chicago. From 1-2:30 p.m. Aug. 1, take a walk through the wildflowers and look for insects, then help write insect poetry. From 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Aug. 21, insect stations will be set up around the preserve so families can collect pond critters, see a bee hive and build an insect playground.

Chicago Wilderness also sells the Chicago Wilderness Family Activity Guide for a suggested donation of $5 online at


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