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Contents tagged with nature

  • Person Behind the Program: Lily Emerson!

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    Tags: public programs, holiday, tras to treasure, family programs, family, nature, chicago, lincoln park

    Created: 12/10/2013      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    Lily Emerson has been singing, dancing, and leading programs at the Nature Museum since 2009. You can meet Lily this month during the Nature Museum's Trash to Treasure: Sounds of the Season, Thursday, December 26- Saturday, December 28, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

    Lily Emerson

    We decided to ask Lily a few questions so that you can get to know the person behind the program!

    How long have you been working with the Nature Museum? What kinds of programs have you done?

    I've been working at the Nature Museum as a music and movement artist in residence since 2009. It was supposed to be just for the summer of that year, but I loved it so much I asked the education department to keep me on for the next year. And the next. And so on. Now, I create music and movement classes for the summer camp sessions, teach Brilliant Butterflies workshops for schools that come to the museum on field trips, and make puppets and other fun things with folks who come in during each year's Trash to Treasure event. It's a pretty wonderful gig as a freelance teaching artist: I get to combine my love of arts education with my love of nature and environmental education, which quite possibly makes me one of the happiest art-and-nature nerds in the city. 

    We hear that you’re a very busy person! Tell us about the different projects you’re currently working on.

    In addition to my work at the Nature Museum, I'm also a teaching artist with Lookingglass Education and one of the many creatives who work at The Hideout, one of Chicago's most interesting venues, but I spend most of my time working on Adventure Sandwich, a live-action cartoon about imagination, collaboration, creative problem-solving... and cardboard. It's a kids' TV show made without any CGI or green screen. Instead, we build all of our sets, props, and "special effects" out of cardboard and other everyday materials. I could go on and on about Adventure Sandwich, because it's the project I love most of anything I've ever created, but I'll spare you my ramblings and point you instead to the videos and so on at adventuresandwich.org

    What do you have planned for this year’s Trash to Treasure?

    This year, we'll be making puppets, shakers, thank you cards, and more out of gift bags, wrapping paper, wrapping paper tubes, and other odds and ends. Whenever possible, we'll also be creating original stories and acting them out with the puppets we'll be making, which will be a hoot. I have one of my favorite collaborators and fellow music and movement artists, Tara Smith, working with me this year, and I can't wait! 

    Tell us about your favorite animal at the Nature Museum.

    I love the button quails who live in the butterfly haven. They're the most adorable flightless birds I've ever had the pleasure to meet. You don't notice them right away, and can miss them entirely if you're not looking down between the bushes, but if you can pull your gaze away from the butterflies for a moment, you're likely to be charmed by those cute little waddlers, too. 

    Thanks, Lily!

    Heather Grance
    Manager of Public Programs

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  • Spring is in the Air

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    Tags: spring, robin, mourning dove, birds, cardinals, Biology, nature, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

    Created: 3/6/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Though there is still snow on the ground, spring is in the air. Males of many species are setting up territories so that they can be sure to have resources ready to sow off to the females as they return to their Chicagoland breeding grounds. Birds are particularly obvious because of their loud calls. Listen for the territorial calls of Cardinals in the morning and throughout the day. I think they sound kind of like space phazers when they quickly chirp “cheer-cheer-cheer-cheer-cheer.” Sometimes they will vary this call and say “birdie-birdie-birdie.”

    Robins, too, are beginning to sing and they may gather in large numbers to feed on left over fruit still hanging on bushes and trees (I saw 16 in one tree earlier this month.) They are working to build strength for the territorial sing-off that will peak over the next few months. Robins will begin singing before we can even see the light of dawn; in our area, that may be as early as 3am. They are calling to the females who have been flying all night and now need a place to rest, feed, and maybe stay to breed.

    Male Robin singing on a tree branch



    Male Mourning Doves aren’t cooing much yet but they are on the lookout for nest sites worth wooing over. Though males and females look about the same, as they begin to pair up, you’ll be able to distinguish the male easily. He’s the one doing all the bowing, cooing, and chest puffing as he tries to show the female that he will be a worthy mate.

    Canada geese have already begun pairing up. Although Canada geese are not sexually dimorphic, that is the males and female look the same, it is possible to distinguish both pairs and rivals in the flock. It's very interesting to watch individuals interact with other members of the flock on North Pond this time of year. There is a lot of aggressive beahvior like hissing, head bowing, and mouth open chasing but there is also a lot of pre-breeding activity. You might see a pair of geese taking a walk in the park, away from the flock, or they might just stand around and look at each other near a potential nest site. 

    As territorial behaviors increase, you may find a birds attacking your car’s mirrors or a window on your house. Birds don’t understand what reflections are so, when they see themselves in your window or mirror, they think it’s an intruder that hasn’t been scared off by their loud singing. So, a battle ensues and the resident bird is unlikely to give up. Just make it so the bird can’t see his reflection--put a piece of paper on the outside of the window, position a lamp so the light overpowers the reflection, put some soap or whitewash over the reflecting area.

    Although birds are easy to spot this time of year, if you look carefully, you’ll be able to find salamanders and fish making nests and wooing mates, too. This kind of activity will increase substantially as the weather warms, the days lengthen, and plants begin to actively grow again.

    Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology

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  • Crafts and Nature Lessons

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    Tags: public programs, crafts, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, family fun, nature

    Created: 2/5/2013      Updated: 5/28/2015

    Part of my job as a Public Programs Educator is developing a monthly activity called “Drop by Family Fun”. The challenge is to come up with a nature based theme to teach through visuals and activities- 12 different topics each year. The themes are introduced to visitors of all ages- from small children to the adults they come with, and every age in between.

    Girl creating crafts at a table

    There are some things to think about when deciding on topics:

    1. Is it relevant to the Museum content?
    2. Can it be taught to different age groups?
    3. Is there a fun way to insure that participants will remember the lesson?

    The answer to the last one is “Make a craft!” Is there a better way to bring a fact home than with a craft? Here are some things that we have done in the past:

    • Make a pinecone bird feeder- to learn about urban birds
    • Make a light switch plate- to remind about energy conservation
    • Make a snake bookmark- to remember what animals are venomous or poisonous

    Participants take home a reminder of the fun lesson they learned at the Nature Museum during their visit. They can come back each month to discover a new subject, and hone their crafting skills once again.

    Crafting has other positive effects. Children can practice fine motor skills. Adults have valuable bonding moments with children when they assist with the project. Everyone gets to exercise natural creativity.

    We hope to see you soon for our monthly “Drop by Family Fun”. It takes place every Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 to 1:00. Please see our program calendar on line or in print for the next upcoming nature topic. It’s time for me to get back to the drawing board for new subjects and crafts.

    Laura Saletta
    Public Programs Educator

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  • Educator Book Recommendations

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    Tags: book recommendations, education, nature, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Biology

    Created: 2/5/2013      Updated: 5/27/2015

    Let’s face it, we have had a mild winter so far, but as most Chicagoans know this could change at any time. We could be faced with winter storms, sub-zero temperatures and gale force winds. Those are the days that could force you to stay inside and read a good book. With that in mind, I recently posed a question to the Museum education department – tell me about your favorite book about nature. The responses were varied and interesting we even had a response from outside the education department. I hope you take the time to read some of our recommendations!

    Michelle Rabkin, Student Programs Coordinator:
    This is my favorite coffee table book, which captivates audiences from 2 to 100 years old. We also use it at the Museum as a resource for programs. This book is visually stunning even if you don’t read a word in it!


    Animal, The Definitive Guide to the World's Wildlife

    The natural world is a dynamic place and our understanding of it is forever growing and changing. Since Animal was first published in 2001, the African elephant has been reclassified into two species, a cat-sized rat has been discovered in Papua New Guinea, the only plant-eating spider has been found in Central America, a bird-eating fanged frog has been located in Vietnam, and more than 1,250 new species of amphibians have been identified.



    Kelly Harland, Museum Educator:
    These books are wonderful for elementary aged through adults.

    Andrew Henry's Meadow by Doris Burn

    In this book you meet Andrew Henry who loves to build things. He builds all sorts of inventions to help his family, but he ends up in the way so he runs to a meadow where he builds himself and his friends houses suited to all their interests. It is a wonderful and creative book about unstructured play and building.

    Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

    In this beautifully written story a young girl goes owling with her dad on a quiet snowy evening. The illustrations are beautiful and the readers become caught up in the quiet, stillness of the story.

    Two Bad Ants by Chris Van Allsburg

    This is the story of two ants who get left behind in a sugar bowl to eat their fill instead of returning with their crystal to the ant hill. They get scooped up in an adventure as a human makes his breakfast. It is a fun ant’s eye view of a kitchen. 



    Rafael Rosa, Vice President of Education:

    A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

    The book describes Bill’s effort to walk the Appalachian Trail with a friend. While not specifically about nature, he incorporates quite a bit about the history and natural history of the Appalachian Mountains. His description of the American Chestnut and our loss of the species due to disease has always stuck with me. Humorous and thought-provoking, it is not only one of my favorite books about nature but one of my favorite books in general.


    Josie Elbert, Associate Director of Education Programs:

    Bees, Snails and Peacock Tails by Betsy Franco

    This is a great book to introduce or confirm the terrific patterns and shapes found in nature. I love that the text mirrors the vivid illustrations. I’m inspired when I learn or notice something new from a children’s book! This book did that, and it’s one I’ll add to our family’s collection.


    Karen Wilson, Living Invertebrate Specialist:


    Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley

    This book is by a world-renowned animal behaviorist who looks in detail at the amazing process of house hunting and the democratic debate that takes place to make a move.  E.O. Wilson sings his praises. 

    Bugs in the System by May Berenbaum

    This is a great read as it looks at insects and their impact on human history from the Silk trade routes, the Napoleonic wars, and current culture.  Cool stuff.


    Barbara Powell, Associate Director of Education Operations:


    The Earth Moved by Amy Stewart

    This book goes underground to let us all discover the earthworm and all of its glories.  From Charles Darwin’s experiments to a discussion about earthworms as an invasive species, this book is interesting and will tell you all you need to know about our subterranean composters.  This book is best for an adult audience but the facts and information discussed would be fascinating for school aged children.

    I hope you enjoy these books and look for more recommendations to come!

    Barb Powell 
    Associate Director of Education Operations

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  • Nature in Your Backyard

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    Tags: nature, education, science on the go, chicago

    Created: 12/6/2012      Updated: 8/10/2016

    A couple of years ago, I taught a lesson about Midwest ecosystems in a fourth grade classroom on the far south side. Two weeks later, I returned to the same classroom, but before I could make it through the door, several students began excitedly shouting, “We saw a wetland! We saw a wetland!  It’s right behind the school!”  (And I’m not talking about moderate excitement; they were “I just won a million dollars” excited!)  They couldn’t believe that the wetlands they had learned about in the classroom – cattails, ducks, and all – could be found right here in their neighborhood. Just behind their school, stuck in between the busy city streets, here’s what they had found:

    Ducks in the pond

    Over the past several years, we’ve ramped up our efforts to connect students to the nature in their neighborhoods. Last month, as part of these efforts, I traveled around Chicago to photograph wetlands in different areas of the city. We know that many teachers aren’t able to take their students to visit wetlands, so we wanted a chance to bring those wetlands – the ones right in their neighborhoods - into the classrooms. 

    Can kids who live near McKinley Park learn to appreciate that their local wetland supports living things that aren’t found on most city blocks?

    Ducks in a wetland setting

    Can students in Lincoln Park get excited about turtles sunning themselves near their school?

    Turtles in North Pond

    Can school kids on the northwest side learn about bird migration by studying a Green Heron in Humboldt Park?

    Green Heron

    We think we have the answers to these questions: YES! ABSOLUTELY! OF COURSE!  But let’s not forget that these connections to nature are always there, waiting for people to experience them, and not just in schools. Get out there and find out what’s going on with the nature in your neighborhood, and when you find something cool (which you certainly will!), we want to hear about it!

    Kristi Backe
    Curriculum Coordinator

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  • Nature on the Go Debuts in 2012

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    Tags: education, nature, Biology, animals, collections

    Created: 11/29/2012      Updated: 8/10/2016

    Do you know the difference between a mount and a study skin? Or what a bird's nest can tell us about the birds who live in it? Or what's with those honeybees that are always in the news? Well, your kids just might!

    Our newest education program, Nature on the Go, connects students to real specimens from the Museum’s collections, answering these questions and delving into other exciting science and nature topics! If you wonder how we do this, take a look at some of the specimens that were prepared just for this program:

    • Frog skeleton

    • Bee specimens with honeycomb

    • Squirrel study skins

    Nature on the Go allows us to bring the rich, 155 year history of the collections of the Chicago Academy of Sciences into Chicago area schools to showcase how specimens can tell us about the lives of local animals. Think about your own visit to a museum: you don’t just want to see each piece of art, set of bones, historical artifact, or plant or animal; you want to know its story! This program teaches the students we serve how to read these stories. Because the program features local animals, students will continue to make connections between what they learn in the classroom and the nature they see right outside their doors in their own neighborhoods.

    We know that teachers need choices and flexibility, so we’re excited to give Nature on the Go teachers a choice for the second part of the program, which takes place after a Nature Museum educator visits the classroom. Some teachers may choose to receive funding to bring their students to the Museum on a field trip, giving the students an opportunity to connect what they learned in the classroom to the world outside of school.

    Other teachers might choose to visit (with a guest) our offsite collections facility to learn more about the 95 percent of our museum collections that aren’t on display in the Museum. These teachers can learn more about the important role specimens play in scientific research and talk with our expert biologists about the stories these specimens can tell. Of course, the teachers will leave the collections facility excited to share their new knowledge with their students! We love that we can share the history of the Chicago Academy of Sciences with teachers and students.

    Developed as a true collaboration between the Education and Biology Departments, this program is on its way to a school near you!

    Michelle Rabkin
    Student Programs Coordinator

    Nathan Armstrong
    Registration Coordinator

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