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Self Guided Family Play & Exploration: Forest Animals

Fees and Registration

(Fees include admission to the Arboretum)


Course description

A squirrel is sitting in a tree and eating a nut.

In spring, the forest comes alive with the comings and goings of its many inhabitants. Take a leisurely walk on a path surrounded by trees and look for squirrels building new nests, birds singing on branches, chipmunks rustling in the leaves, turtles basking in the sun, and other animals emerging from winter’s slumber. Pick a spot and sit quietly for a few minutes. Then, wonder together: What made that sound? Who could find a home in that tree hollow? How did those tracks get there? Where was the animal going? How did the animal create that?

Extend your exploration of forest animals with these family activity suggestions from our early childhood team:

Build and Imagine

Create a forest scene or animal home with natural materials you find outside on the ground and paper towel tubes, egg cartons, popsicle sticks, or other things you have around the house. Consider adding some color with paint or markers.

Forest plants and animals depend on each other. If you were a forest animal, where would you live? If you were a squirrel, what would you eat? If you were a chipmunk, where would you make a burrow?

Use a stuffed animal or create your own forest creature with playdough, salt dough, or clay, and surround it with some of the things provided by the forest: food, shelter, shade, and nesting materials, for example. Try inserting yourself into the forest scene, as well! Snap a photo of your finished piece and share it with others!

A small toy rabbit is surrounded by items found in nature and a paper tree.



The Busy Tree, by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Lisa Fankelstern. Available in print or electronically.
Discover an entire community of animals that lives in and around a tree, in this beautifully illustrated childrens’ book with rhyming text and a wonderfully affirming ending.

The front cover of the book, A busy Tree.



Make yourself a forest shelter (outside or inside!) using old bed sheets, large sticks, outdoor chairs, and dry leaves, grasses, or stones. Does your shelter have one exit or two? Are you comfortable enough to rest, play, or read a book in it? Does it have an area for food and snacks? Are there any animals you can quietly observe from your shelter?

A Backyard fort or tent is made with a tree, sheet and two camp chairs.

For Older Siblings

Explore the amphibians that are active in spring by hiking near wetlands to listen for frog calls, or gently turning over dead logs, garden pots, or stones to search for salamanders. Observe any animals you see without handling them or keeping them as pets, because their homes are in wetlands and forests. In spring, frogs and salamanders are in the middle of their breeding cycles. Research the dramatic differences in their life cycles and draw each stage in a nature journal. Learn how you can contribute to frog monitoring efforts in Illinois and find out what frogs you might hear at a site near you, including The Morton Arboretum, based on today’s weather conditions, at https://frogsurvey.org

Self Guided Family Play & Exploration: Forest Animals