Dunes center teaches kids about environment

October 28, 2011 (CHESTERTON, Ind.)

Hosea Sanders takes us on a field trip with a group of fourth graders in this "Live Green With ABC 7" report.

Since the Dunes Learning center was established in 1998, some 60,000 children and chaperones have come out for an immersion in nature. And, while there is a serious curriculum, it's not all academics. It's also about having fun outdoors while learning to "live green."

It was a school day for the fourth graders from the Burnett Creek Elementary School. But it probably doesn't feel like one.

"They're spending time with our instructors and our naturalists out in the national park, which makes a wonderful classroom," said DUNes Learning Center Executive Director John Hayes.

They are beginning a three-day field trip in Chesterton, Indiana, at the Dunes Learning Center. That's a nonprofit organization which provides environmental education in partnership with the National Park Service and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

"All of our programs are designed to meet state and national standards, and they're really aimed at really helping teachers and schools teach kids a variety of different subject areas, including science and natural history, but also social studies, art, language arts and so forth," said Hayes.

They board a bus to head to West Beach for a hike and eco-investigation. It's a hands-on way to learn about the plants and animals that live in and around Lake Michigan.

One game opened students' eyes about the obstacles salmon must face to survive.

"The salmon have to go through a lot of predators, like the water turbines," said Nicholas Johnson, a Burnett Creek Elementary School student.

Naturalists also help students appreciate nature by teaching about succession -- or how the landscape has changed over time.

"It's difficult to wrap your fourth grade mind around centuries and around geological time, but we try to get them to do that, to see not only what's here now, but what this land used to look like after the glaciers came through," said Megan Krintz, senior naturalist at Dunes Learning Center.

That makes it easier to show the students their role in preserving the area's current ecosystems.

"We can stop littering on beaches, and sometimes people bring glass to the beach and if they break, they just let it go. They don't pick it up. So we can pick up glass or plastic," said Kaitlin Zeltwanger, a student at Burnett Creek Elementary School.

Dunes Learning Center presented its first Green Apple Awards for environmental education recently to the Frank O'Bannon Elementary School in Hammond and the Richard Yates Elementary School in Chicago.

If you would like more details on their curriculum, check out the links below.



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