Schlitz Audubon Nature Center
Getting outside into nature is a great way for kids to learn. Schlitz Audubon Nature Center's preschool director Catherine Koons-Hubbard explains, “Partnering with nature provides us with opportunities to educate and fascinate. We are able to introduce children to amphibian life cycles, bird migration and the physical properties of water. We interact with diverse habitats, we identify plants and animals, webuild and experiment with natural materials. We also use nature to help children learn about patterns and numbers and to develop early literacy skills. There are opportunities for children to overcome physical challenges, to work in cooperation with others, to solve problems and to develop empathy for other living creatures. Our goal is to meet children where they are developmentally while helping them build a lasting connection to the natural world.”
Here are just a few of the fun learning opportunities available at this nature center, located at 1111 E. Brown Deer Rd.
- Interactive displays about local habitats, history and bird conservation
- Live animals, including birds of prey that aren't able to be released to the wild as part of the premier Raptor Program
- Backpacks filled with family-oriented scavenger hunt maps and tools
- Audubon Babies classes for the littlest nature lovers, ages 6 to 24 months
Milwaukee County Zoo
The Milwaukee County Zoo, at 10001 W. Bluemound Rd., is more than just a place to look at animals. The mission of the Zoological Society of Milwaukee (the non-profit that aids the zoo) is to take part in conserving wildlife and endangered species, to educate people about the importance of wildlife and the environment and to support the Milwaukee County Zoo.
This mission is fulfilled through the ever-popular zoo classes, which are offered to families, young children with their grownups, children ages 4 to 14, and adults. The zoo's many special events and exhibits also offer out-of-the-ordinary opportunities to learn about animals and conservation. Some of those special events, such as World Penguin Day on April 22 and World Elephant Day on August 11, give visitors the chance to get up close and personal (as is safely possible, of course!) with their favorite animals. Others, such as Endangered Species Day on May 19 and Party for the Planet on May 20 and 21, focus on a more universal message of conservation.
And that message has the most impact when presented in a fun way. For example, at the Party for the Planet event, kids will pretend to be birds and get banded to follow a migration path through the zoo. They’ll have to get through obstacles that mimic what a bird might have to avoid -- think power lines!
Also starting soon is a brand new exhibit; Body Worlds: Animal Inside Out will be at the zoo May 6 through September 4. The creator of popular museum exhibit "Body Worlds" has constructed this exhibition with 100 spectacular specimens, each preserved by the process of Plastination. Kids will be able to observe the similarities between human and animal anatomy, we well as the differences -- like those found in the bones of mammals vs. avians. Kids will learn the specifics of what allows some animals to fly and others to climb, as well as how animals adapt to their environments.
Urban Ecology Center
Milwaukee's Urban Ecology Center has three branches -- Riverside Park at 1500 E. Park Pl., Washington Park at 1859 N. 40th St. and Menomonee Valley at 3700 W. Pierce St. And all three locations have great opportunities to enhance children's education by connecting them to the natural world.
- The Young Scientists Club at Washington Park offers drop-in educational adventures for kids ages 7-12. Kids can enjoy nature, create self-guided research projects and construct arts and crafts.
- Riverside Park's Nature Rangers program is a fun way for younger kids to explore through hikes, games, experiments, crafts and more. Lesson plans for each week are based on the Next Generation Science Standards.
- There are lots of structured classes, events and activities, including a nature preschool, summer camps, after-school classes, free festivals, volunteer opportunities and birthday parties.
- There are also plenty of opportunities for unstructured nature play, including the chance to check out equipment like snowshoes, cross country skis and kayaks, as well as plenty of trails to explore and commune with nature.