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Who’s Afraid of Nature?

Chicago Public School Students Explore the Outdoors

“Can I hold your hand? I’m scared!”

These were the words of a 5th grade girl with bright pink puffy ear muffs at the beginning of her school’s October field trip to Beaubien Woods on Chicago’s south side.  She immediately grabbed my hand as she and her classmates began to follow me into the tall grasses of a recently restored prairie at the site. As one of the leaders of the Mighty Acorns field trip and a nature lover, I was a little baffled by her anxiety, so I responded:

“Well, what exactly do you think you are afraid of?”

“NATURE!” she shrilled as she clenched my hand tighter. After I said a few calming words and showed her that the only thing to fear was tall golden Indian Grass brushing up against her jacket or that she might not be quick enough to catch a spider in a bug box, she was off to explore the prairie. Within minutes the students who at first were apprehensive about this new place were fascinated by the insects and plants they discovered during their morning in the field.

This fall over 700 Chicago Public Schools students from the Calumet region participated in Mighty Acorns field trips supported by The Field Museum’s Calumet Environmental Education Program (CEEP) staff.  These 4-6th grade students, representing five Chicago schools, engaged in exploration of natural areas, stewardship, and educational activities teaching ecological concepts of adaptation, interdependence, communities, competition, and biodiversity.  Those fancy scientific words were distilled by one of our students who said she had learned “a lot about native plants and non-native plants and that they don’t go together”.

One of the goals of the Mighty Acorns program is to get kids outside and comfortable in natural areas close to their schools.  Many of the students we work with have limited outdoor time between ever shrinking recess time at school and limited trips to natural areas such as the Beaubien Woods prairie site, so it’s no wonder nature could be a scary place.  As the fall field trip season closes and the winter field trips begin, here at The Field Museum we are hopeful that they will continue to be just as excited about being outside and seeing the same natural areas covered with snow and animal tracks.


Field Museum staff recently asked several students what they would tell someone about their Mighty Acorns field trip and this is what they said:  

I would tell them that it is a real adventure and they would learn a lot about biodiversity and non-native and native plants   - Lavizzo Elementary 6th grade student

I had the best day ever. I cut honey suckle bushes. My trip was fun. There is nothing better - George Washington 5th grade student

I would tell he/she that this was the best field trip that I’ve ever been to in my life” - George Washington 5th grade student


Photos: Betsy Quail