ComEd’s Buffalo Grove Prairie doesn’t look like much from a distance. In fact, from most angles, it's impossible to see from a distance. But this high quality, 10-acre remnant prairie is the last remaining strip of a natural area that was bulldozed decades ago; it stands as a testament to time and human development—a glimpse into the ecological past of Illinois.
Guided by Weiss, the students got an overview of native plants and the history of the site as they patiently pushed through the trail-less prairie, paying special attention to lighting and symmetry—the focus of the day’s lesson. “Light is everything!”, boomed Michael Kardas, an Air Force vet, professional photographer, and the instructor for the day. One veteran focused on the contrast between the prairie and the Metra trains passing in the background. Another honed in on delicate stalks of goldenrod, pausing as clouds shifted overhead, waiting for the right light to strike. Kardas focused on capturing candids of the students themselves. After an hour or so of full immersion in art and nature, the group adjourned for coffee, and to look over the shots of the day together.
Multiple studies have found that spending time recreating in nature not only improves physical fitness, but can also have numerous positive impacts on mental health and development. In children, these impacts can include: decreased feelings of stress and aggression, increased focus, and improved relationship skills. Time in nature can also help stimulate creativity, and artistic outlets can have similar beneficial effects on mental health. But access to nature and the arts is not universal, and is often restricted by income and class. Here at Brushwood, we have been working to increase access to nature and the arts for children through its new program, It’s A W.I.N. (Art and Wellness In Nature).
It’s A W.I.N. aims not only to impact individual children’s access to the health benefits of nature, but their surrounding ecosystem of care as well, including parents and teachers. Brushwood had the honor of running a pilot of the program this summer with Nuestro Center in Highwood. After a training with staff and volunteers in June, Brushwood hosted over 60 summer campers from Nuestro Center on July 14th. These campers spent a day learning all about monarch butterflies, their life cycles, and their migration pathways. Students returned the following Saturday with their families to show them what they had learned, and look for monarch eggs and caterpillars along the trail.
In early October, Brushwood staff made a trip to Nuestro Center to partake in the Symbolic Migration Program through Journey North. Each student decorated their own paper monarch to send to a classroom in Michoacán, Mexico, the region that the monarchs migrate to in the fall. Students were told that their monarch should serve as an ambassador of their town and themselves. One student chose to draw their favorite athlete’s jersey, while others decorated their butterfly’s wings with hearts, or flowers, or in one case, a pepperoni pizza. Two wrote a special message in Spanish for their new friends: nunca se rinde—never give up. In the spring, the students will receive a different packed of butterflies from their friends in Michoacán, and the migration cycle will be complete.
Brushwood is thrilled to have expanded the It’s A WIN program to two new community partners, Foss Park District and the Round Lake Bilingual Parent Advisory Council. Children from Foss Park's after school program, Latchkey Kid, spent a day learning about migratory birds and adaptations. After an introduction to using binoculars, our young friends hit the trails and saw a red-tailed hawk, a red-headed woodpecker, and a pair of bluebirds. Not bad for a first birding!
This past Friday, Round Lake Bilingual Parent Advisory Council brought their students to brushwood for an evening to celebrate nature, and cultural connections. Dia de muertos, or Day of the Dead is an important Mexican holiday that celebrates lives of family and friends who have passed on, and supports their spirits' journeys to the next life. It is believed that monarch butterflies, that migrate to Mexico around this holiday, are the souls of departed loved ones, returning to visit. Students from Round Lake made paper monarchs, marigolds, and calaveras (sugar skulls), and together we created our own ofrenda (Day of the Dead altar), to honor those who came before us and the land that sustained them, and continues to sustain us today. If you are interested in learning more about It’s A WIN and our other youth programs, contact Dani Abboud at email@example.com.
This blog is written by the staff and partners of Brushwood Center at Ryerson Woods