The Park District has nine nature play spaces, with five more in the works. Like playgrounds, they are technically closed due to the coronavirus.
But some parents have been meeting up at parks for early childhood nature play groups — lifesavers for parents after months inside and the closest to pre-pandemic socialization the kids are likely to find.
On a hot day at West Ridge Nature Preserve, in a spot tucked behind some black-eyed Susans as bright as the sky, a little voice behind a violet unicorn mask cried out above the thrum of cicadas: “Look!”
The little girl unfurled her fingers to reveal flecks of dirt and a slimy, puffy, writhing worm.
“What I love about forest school is people are interacting with the earth, they are not constricted, they can explore,” said Audrey Todd, an organizer of the group and a member of the Northern Illinois Nature Preschool Association. “Kids become creative and resilient.”
Later in the day, the kids made their way toward a small hill to scale. Some made it to the top. “Mosquitoes, get away from me,” one flustered boy said. “I am not getting one INCH dirtier.”
A few hovered near the bottom, watching their fellow masked playmates, calculating where they’d need to place each hand to make it to the top.
Nature offers “calm challenges,” Todd said.