In keeping with Council Oak Montessori School’s commitment to forming meaningful relationships with its wider community, the school has been engaged in a number of projects with the Cook County Forest Preserves. In 2018 COMS elementary programs received classroom grants to build and maintain gardens on campus. Shortly thereafter, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, Department of Conservation and Experimental Programming assisted in helping the school get started on transforming their plastic and rubber playground into a nature playspace, incorporating items found in nature over artificial structures.
In Montessori education, the outdoor classroom is just as important as the indoor ones. While the COVID-19 mandated shutdown prevented COMS students from joining CCFP staff at the Cal-Sag that runs along the southern end of the school’s property as per our original plans, the collaboration still happened. The team of specialists taught students about crayfish and other invasive species to Illinois waterways through a different medium. On May 14th, 4th through 8th grade students of Council Oak Montessori School (COMS) completed a virtual program with COMS staff and Adam Kessel, the program director at Cook County Forest Preserves.
When they are able to come together in person, COMS incorporates their natural spaces as an integral part of their curriculum. The school’s extensive outdoor space and proximity to the Cal-Sag allows students to engage with nature and become true stewards of local plants, wildlife, and prairie restoration.
Illinois is home to 23 different species of crayfish, and the team of specialists set out to catch and identify some. Students learned that not all the crayfish they find in the wild are native. Instead, there are a variety of invasive species in Illinois which “bully” other species and disrupt local ecosystems.
Some invasive species are introduced after being kept as pets and released into the wild, while others are migrating to new areas as our climate continues to warm. The goal of this team of experts was to catch and identify crayfish, monitoring whether invasive species are appearing in new areas, and containing those populations before they take over.
Although no crayfish showed up in this field experiment (one of those realities of science), students did get to see a dragonfly nymph and two baby fish (called “fries”). Students also learned about anatomy of crayfish and how to identify different species of crayfish. They also learned to identify crayfish “chimneys” or tubes in the mud that they breathe through while they hide below.
The specialists at the Cook County Forest Preserves hold special qualifications and permits in order to do much of the field work from this collaboration. However, they gave some advice for students interested in citizen science projects. If you find crayfish when you’re out on a hike, take a picture. You can then go onto websites like iNaturalist, and Chicago Wildlife Watch. If you’re interested in other citizen science you can check out eBird, and Project Budburst.
Council Oak Montessori School is immensely thankful for everyone from the Cook County Forest Preserves for this wonderful opportunity to expand our outdoor curriculum. In the future, COMS hopes to continue using their garden and prairie restoration space for educating students about the world around them. For 30 years Council Oak Montessori School has been committed to educating the whole child in a way that makes learning inspirational. This partnership shows that this commitment continues even during distance learning.
Council Oak Montessori School’s remote learning is continuing in a strong way through the end of the semester, including the outdoor program. They plan to return to our classrooms this Fall and also plan to have a simultaneous distance learning program. If you are interested in applying, or just want to learn more about Council Oak Montessori School, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website at www.counciloakmontessori.org