What to know before you go

We are so excited for LEAP sessions to start next week, and we hope you are, too! Please read on to find out what to expect at LEAP, and what we're expecting of you and/or the caregiver attending with your child.


Let your child lead the way.

Most of the class will consist of free play among 6-8 different stations. Some kids might hang out at the same station for half the class filling and emptying buckets of beans, while others may run around and continuously sample each station. Watch what your child is drawn to, and then join in! 

Check out the theme for each class.

Each week will investigate opposites. Opposites are all around us - big and small, dark and light, high and low. Which pairs do you see in nature?

We will end class each week by reading a related story or having an animal experience. An animal experience can mean getting to meet and possibly touch an animal or watching enrichment be given out to an animal that lives in the building we’re in that week. The themes are listed on the blog under the “themes” tab, so check it out to see what else we’ll be exploring this season!

Dress for a mess. 

Playing with natural materials sometimes means getting dirty, be it creating with clay, squishing paint between our fingers, or splashing in the sensory bin. If you and your child are dressed for a bit of mess, then you can dig right into the activities and not worry about the clothes.

Enjoy this special time with your child.

LEAP is centered on nature play- playing in and around nature as well as with natural materials- so it's a great opportunity to take a break from technology. We’d like everyone to unplug for the hour that you’re at LEAP each week and ask that you keep phone use to a minimum during class. Explore the fun materials and the animals surrounding you, and share in your child's sense of wonder, seeing the world through their eyes.


You’ll see us taking pictures at class to capture these wonderful moments. We share all the photos either on the blog or at the end of the series. 

Join the LEAP dialogue!

Feel free to chat with staff and fellow participants at LEAP, and follow the blog to learn more about nature and child-directed play, share your ideas and feedback, and get inspired to extend your outdoor and nature play experiences beyond the class. Nothing makes us happier than hearing about how you incorporate what we’ve done at LEAP together into your life at home!

Throughout the series, we will share photos, discuss nature play and its benefits, give you some activity how-tos, and hopefully inspire you to extend your nature play experiences beyond LEAP class! 

We’re so excited to learn, explore, and play with you! See you soon!

The Lincoln Park Zoo LEAP Team

No Bad Weather

Did you know that Scandinavians have a saying, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing?” Snow came to Chicago today, and the zoo was filled with mixed emotions. Some coworkers forgot how long it takes to get to work when the snow starts falling. The lionesses, however, enjoyed laying on their heated rocks while snow gathered on their whiskers. “Bad” weather is subjective, but when it comes to nature play, we definitely agree with the Scandinavians: There is no bad weather, only bad clothing!


How many times have you gotten ready to leave the house only to realize you were not prepared for the weather outside? It happens to me all the time! I often walk to work and realize that I am not bundled up or rain-proofed enough. It takes a lot of work and a lot of layering to head outdoors when the sun is missing and the temperatures have dropped. Add little ones into the mix, and you’re in for double the preparation! It can feel like too much effort is required, but the easiest way to have fun outdoors is to be prepared.

Put aside all those preparation thoughts for a moment, and think back to when you were growing up. Snow days were full of excitement and exploration! School would be cancelled, snow pants would go on, and you’d stay outdoors for hours, building forts and tossing snowballs at friends. Rainy days offered all sorts of new sights! There were puddles to hop in, worms to hold, and leaves drenched in cold, refreshing water. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to experience those moments with your toddler?

At LEAP, we always take the weather into consideration. There have been multiple classes where we’ve rushed our stations inside because the rain picked up. While we’d love to stay outdoors all the time, your comfort is our first priority. Having class in Children’s Zoo is our favorite, because we can have indoor AND outdoor stations, allowing LEAPers to play where they feel most cozy!

We’d like to challenge you to step outside of your weather comfort zone. Here are a few tips and tricks for making the most of Chicago’s unpredictable weather:


  • Steer clear of cotton socks. Cotton traps water, making wet feet feel miserable for longer.

  • Bring out some old pots, pans, and whisks to create your very own mud kitchen!

Extreme cold or snow?

  • Thermal socks and a hat! It sounds simple, but we often forget that most of our body heat escapes through the top of our head and the soles of our feet. Making sure these areas are toasty will help extend your outdoor time.'

  • Bring black construction paper outside to collect snowflakes. Grab a magnifying glass to explore the unique patterns!

  • Blow bubbles outside in the cold. They’ll last longer and you might even see some crystals form!

Sweltering heat?

  • Drench a few bandanas in water and leave them in the freezer. When you’re ready to play outdoors, bring your frozen bandanas in a Ziploc bag. Drape them over your little one’s neck for a quick cool down.

  • Water painting! This is especially fun when the temperatures are high. Your designs will begin to evaporate as you work, changing right before your eyes and providing a new, clean palette for painting.


  • Bring a scarf along to block the breeze! Scarves can be wrapped and tucked in so many ways. Plus, it’s nice to have something to cover little ones’ noses and mouths when the winds pick up.

  • Make your own wind chime with materials you have lying around the house. Explore different sounds made by different materials!

Any weather? Have a treat on hand, like juicy popsicles for the heat or tomato soup for the cold. Enjoying a treat together is the perfect follow-up to an outdoor adventure.

Want to learn more about nature-centric life in Scandinavia? Check out Lina Akeson McGurk’s book, There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids.

Now, put on your jacket, grab a scarf, and head outdoors!

Written by Nicole Hodur

Cozy Up with a Good Book

When fall turns to winter in the Midwest, you’ll notice that many of the animals that we share a habitat with are less visible. Where have they all gone? During this time of year, animals will either hibernate through colder months, migrate to a warmer climate, or adapt physically and behaviorally to survive.

At this same time, you may find yourself wanting to spend more time inside to avoid brisk temperatures and strong winds. Though we believe there is no such thing as bad weather, we can certainly understand the impulse to want to curl up inside with a cozy blanket and a good book.

When you choose to stay inside, we encourage you to create a cozy den for yourself and grab one of our favorite winter children’s books to learn what all of our feathered, furry and scaly friends are up to this time of year.

Don’t forget to check out our Books and Resources tab to find even more children’s books to enjoy!

—Emily Van Laan