A group of kids walking away from the camera on a wooded trail.
Tree Tunnel Walk Children walk through the tree tunnel section at the Children of Indiana Nature Park. © Randall Schieber

Indiana

Children of Indiana Nature Park

We're taking kids to an amazing new place. It's called outside. 

What is the Children of Indiana Nature Park?

You won’t find a swing set or slide at the Children of Indiana Nature Park. Instead, the trails at the Park provide opportunities to see and enjoy plants, birds and other creatures. And unlike playground parks, this park provides every student in Indiana with a deed to a piece of this special place.

This “Nature IN-Deed” invites young Hoosiers to think of themselves as little landowners and to learn to care for their land.

Kids today are spending less time outdoors than their parents or grandparents. Busy schedules, urban settings and digital devices often win out over nature for a child’s attention. The Children of Indiana Nature Park uses technology to invite youth to care for nature. The 30-acre Park in Centerville, Indiana was given to all K-12 Hoosier students in honor of Indiana’s 200th birthday, and each student can claim a deed to their place in the Park. This gift of a nature park invites Hoosier kids to learn about the wonders of our natural world and to care for their land.

This website provides resources for youth, parents and teachers to help connect children with nature.

The Children of Indiana Nature Park is located on the Cope Environmental Center property in Centerville, Indiana.

If you are a teacher or a group leader, these inspirational words will help you introduce the deed and why it is so special.

What Does it Mean to Have a Nature IN-Deed?

Every Nature-IN Deed holder has claim to a spot in the Children of Indiana Nature Park. This means each student with a deed will have “claim” to a spot in the Park that can be visited in person or virtually on this website. Once you have the deed, it is yours to hold on to and pass it down to younger siblings or even future children so generations to come will continue to have this special connection with nature.

Once your kids have a Nature IN-Deed, display it proudly or put it to work! You can frame your deed and hang it up to show it off, stick it on your fridge as a reminder to learn more about nature and even use the coordinates to find your county’s designated spot when you visit the Children of Indiana Nature Park.

Send us your photos of how you display or use your deed to childrenofindiananaturepark@tnc.org and you could end up on our webpage or social media!

Children of Indiana Nature Park Time spent outside with nature goes a long way toward creating a happy, healthy childhood. With the Children of Indiana Nature Park, we're giving kids a place they can call their own.

A Nature Park

You won’t find a swing set or slide at this park. Instead, the trails at the Children of Indiana Nature Park provide the opportunity to see and enjoy plants, birds and other creatures. And unlike playground parks, this park is providing every student in Indiana with a deed to a piece of this special place. This “Nature IN-Deed” invites your young Hoosier to think of themselves as little landowners and to learn to care for their land.

How do you learn to care for your land? (Hint: You don't need to be at the Children of Indiana Nature Park!)

Start by being an observer. Whether you are in the city or in the country, take a look around you and notice what you see!

Look up to see what might be near the treetops or on the power lines. Look down and notice the soil, wildlife footprints, plants or animals. Take pictures or notes about what you see. Later on, you might be able to identify it. If you know what it is, you can learn what it needs and how to care for it.

Use the slider on the illustration below to observe nature in both a forest and a park! What differences do you see? What is the same?

Illustration of a park showing the flora and fauna.
Illustration of a forest showing the flora and fauna.
Be an Observer! Whether you are in the city or in the country, take a look around you and notice what you see! Click and hold to grab the arrows, then move them up and down to see nature in a city park and in a nature preserve.

Connecting with Nature as a Family

When you are curious about something, you might turn to the internet for answers. That’s just what Stacy and her family did from their home in Fayette County when they were curious about butterflies. In their search, they happened upon the Children of Indiana Nature Park’s website, where they found resources about plants and animals, including the pollinator curriculum. The pollinator curriculum sparked a new idea for their family.

A man and his children look at a butterfly on a bush.
Finding a Butterfly A family observes a butterfly on a bush. © Mike Wilkinson

But Stacy’s family knew you didn’t need to travel far to explore and connect with our natural world. Nature can be found right in our own backyards. 

“Watching them became a cool little project that sparked a huge interest in different wildlife habitats,” said Stacy about her family’s study and observation of butterflies. The family also decided to raise monarch butterflies, which brought the wonders of nature into their home.

“Nature means a ton to my family, we have a [fish] pond that made its own ecosystem, it brought frogs and turtles and my kids love catching the frogs and building them little frog houses,” she said.

Thank you to Stacy and her family for being such enthusiastic backyard nature explorers. You are an inspiration!

And if your family is ready to leave your backyard and explore our state’s great natural areas, the Children of Indiana Nature Park can help with that too. Find nature near you!

“Connecting with nature is a huge part of our family time. We spend a lot of time at nature reserves and vacation to a lot of national parks.”

Location

The Children of Indiana Nature Park is located on the Cope Environmental Center property in Centerville, Indiana.

Address

1730 Airport Road
Centerville, IN 47330

Three young children with butterfly nets walking through tall, green grasses.
Children of Indiana Nature Park Whether it's the Children of Indiana Nature Park or Cope Environmental Center, there's always something to see or do. © Judy Buchholz

Hours

Open from dawn to dusk each day.

Importance of Nature for Kids

Studies show that children need nature to be healthy. Kids who spend time outdoors are more physically fit, less stressed, more confident and more creative. The risk of nearsightedness is reduced for kids who play outdoors. Dirt has been shown to be beneficial for the health of our youth. Most importantly, nature is fun to explore!

Want more information on the benefits of reconnecting kids and nature? Check out the Children & Nature Network’s library of research.

For locations to get your kids outside, check out the map below, the IDNR website and TNC's preserves in Indiana.

Summer Activities

Summer is here! It is a time to get outside to explore and connect with our natural world. Here are some ideas to get you started on your summertime outdoor adventures. These activities are both fun and educational and for kids of any age. There is sure to be something that will capture the interests of everyone!

A person holds a plant ready to be planted in their bare hands.
Community Gardening Volunteers help plant a community garden. © Sandy Bressner

Plant a Garden

Plant a garden! Now that the weather is warm, the time is perfect to get your hands a little dirty and plant some native species. Plant vegetables or see what kind of pollinators you can attract with different flowers. These beautiful native flowers are great for attracting butterflies, bees and even hummingbirds to your garden: cardinal flower, bee balm and purple coneflowers. Pollinators are vital to humans and nature, so let’s help them out!

4 women enjoying a meal outside under an umbrella.
Outdoor Lunch Eating outdoors connects people and nature. © TNC

Have a Group Meal Outdoors

Spending time outside connects people and nature, and planning an outdoor meal together is a great way to get out. Pack up a meal or snack using your reusable containers and water bottles; then head to your yard, your local nature park or any nearby green space—small or large. Look around and see what other animals you see. What are they eating?

Clouds and the shoreline full of trees reflect in a river.
Reflected Clouds Clouds reflecting in a river. © Jason Whalen

Watch the Clouds

What shapes do you see? Do any of them look like your favorite animal? Create a story about the clouds and their shapes! This is all about imagination—so think outside the box and let your mind wander as you gaze at the sky. Do you see animals or plants or something else interesting? The sillier you can get, the more fun you’ll have!

Green grass swaying in the wind.
Windswept Grass Grasslands in the wind. © TNC

Watch the Wind

Use a kite or a pinwheel to watch the wind patterns. Notice what direction it’s blowing and when it dies down. As your kite or pinwheel moves or slows down, think about how the wind helps with seed dispersion and small birds. The wind can indicate weather that might be on its way, too. Look around and see what you notice the wind carrying. Is the wind warm or cold, and what does the sky look like?

Nature Center Network

The Nature Center Network includes nature centers throughout Indiana that teach environmental curriculum. Nature Centers are excited to host your group for lessons or adventures to learn about the natural world. This map can help you find a nature center near you.

Brookville Lake State Park
14108 IN-101 Brookville, IN 47012 765.647.2657 765.647.2658
Cool Creek Park Nature Center
2000 East 151st Street Carmel, IN 46033 317.774.2500
Conner Prairie Interactive History Park
134000 Allisonville Road Fishers, IN 46038 317.776.6000
Cope Environmental Center
1730 Airport Rd Centerville, IN 47330 765.855.3188
Dobbs Park Nature Center
5170 Poplar Street Terre Haute, IN 47803 812.877.1095
Eagle Creek Park
5901 Delong Road Indianapolis, IN 46254 317.327.7110
Holliday Park
6363 Spring Mill Road Indianapolis, IN 46260 317.327.7180
Lily Nature Center
1620 Lindberg Road West Lafayette, IN 47906
Nina Mason Pulliam EcoLab - Marian University
3200 Cold Spring Road Indianapolis, IN 46222 317.955.6000
Metea County Park
8401 Union Chapel Road Fort Wayne, IN 46845 260.449.3777
Monroe County Parks and Recreation
501 N. Morton Street Ste. 100 Bloomington, IN 47404 812.349.2800
Rum Village Nature Center
2626 S. Gertrude Street South Bend, IN 46614 574.235.9455
Shirley Heinze Land Trust
109 W 700 North Valparaiso, IN 46385 219.242.8558
Wah-ba-skik-a Nature Center
200 Battle Ground Avenue Battle Ground, IN 47906 765.567.2147
Whitewater Memorial State Park
1418 S. State Road 101 Liberty, IN 47353
Woodlawn Nature Center
604 Woodlawn Ave Elkhart, IN 46514 574.265.0525
Zion Nature Center
690 Beech Street Zionsville, IN 46077 317.873.8950
Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve
551 North Boeke Road Evansville, IN 47711 812.479.0771

Nature Center Network Find a nature center near you!

Community Science Activities

Looking for something to do that's helpful to the science community? Try some community science! Not only will you learn all about each of the subjects for these projects but you'll also be helping scientists track and record data.

eBird
eBird is a year-round community science project through to Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You can submit birds you see to their database to help you find more birds, keep track of what birds you find, explore sightings from around the world and contribute to science and conservation!

NestWatch
NestWatch nationwide nest-monitoring program. It tracks the status and trends in bird reproduction, and you watch nests! This easy and fun community science project asks you find a nest, monitor it and report what you see to NestWatch in real time. It helps researchers to understand and study birds.Project

FeederWatch (April – November)
Project FeederWatch is a winter community science project that surveys birds visiting feeders in backyards, nature centers and other locations in North America. These bird counts let you see what is happening in your own backyard and helps scientists track long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance. Project FeederWatch is through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

FrogWatch USA
FrogWatch USA is through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. To participate, individuals, families and groups observe and report frog and toad vocalizations February –August. It is a chance to learn about wetlands and toads and frogs in your communities.

Budburst
Budburst is sponsored by the Chicago Botanic Garden and is a way to report flowering times of local plants. Community scientists report observations of plant lifecycles to help researches and horticulturists understand more about how plant species and ecosystems respond to changes in climate locally, regionally and nationally. Allseasons are valuable so you can participate at any time of year.

Great Lakes Early Detection Network
GLEDN is an invasive species early detection and warning system for the Great Lakes region. It was developed with funding from the National Park Service and is part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. It is an online tracking systems that collects invasive species reports from casual observers anduses the reports to project the Great Lakes region.

Tick Insiders
Tick Insiders is a citizen science project to improvethat prevention, diagnosis and treatment of tick-borne diseases in Indiana. This project helps scientists better understand the risks of tick-borne diseases and can help improve healthcare for Hoosiers.

Report INvasives
Report INvasives is a website hosted by the Purdue College of Agriculture and the Indiana Invasive Species Council. Community scientists report sightings of invasive plant and animal species they see in Indiana and the experts take it from there. The website helps you learn about the harm invasive species can do and how to identify them.

Partner Parks

The Children of Indiana Nature Park is connecting children with our natural world. Located in Wayne County, the Park may be too far for some people to visit. This is why partner parks throughout the state are teaming up with us! We want kids to be able to see the land they “own” with their Nature IN-Deeds. These parks will allow kids a closer-to-home and personal nature connection.

Partner Parks are green spaces throughout Indiana with land dedicated to Indiana youth. Just as the Children of Indiana Nature Park has Nature IN-Deeds, so do our partner parks. In addition to deeded land, there are trails to explore and curriculum to connect knowledge and senses to the land.

One-story nature center sits among trees in autumn.
Rum Village Nature Center Autumn at the Rum Village Nature Center. © TNC

Rum Village Park

Near the heart of South Bend is Rum Village Park. This 160-acre area is a wildlife haven and offers hiking and biking trails, picnic areas and a place to escape to one of the nicest woodlands in the area. The Rum Village Nature Center invites parents and teachers to help children claim their deed to a piece of land in Rum Village Park. The Nature IN-Deed is an invitation for you to learn about the land—the pond or forest habitat, the creatures that live there—and how to care for your land. Once you have your deed, find your spot in the Park! Walk along the Indian Trail to find your spot in the forest. To find your spot near the vernal ponds, take the Spicebush Trail.

Rum Village Park has a unique type of habitat, known as a vernal pond. The word vernal means spring time, so that tells us when these wetlands are full of water, and life. Frogs, toads and salamanders use these ponds in spring, when they are laying eggs. By the time they have gone from egg, to larva, to adult, the ponds are drying out. But that’s OK, since the young amphibians are now developed enough to hop or crawl away into a different wetland, or suitable location.

Rum Village Park is also home to an ecosystem known as mixed deciduous forest. This ecosystem formerly covered much of the eastern United States. We are privileged to have this living vestige of that great forest within the city limits of South Bend. It’s home to 25 different species of trees, with many of them being over 150 years old. And it’s not just trees that thrive at Rum Village. Wildflowers, mushrooms and ferns, reptiles and amphibians, mammals and a 100-plus species of birds find a safe haven in Rum Village Park.

Interested in a lesson and field trip for your students to learn more about vernal ponds or mixed deciduous forest? Contact Garry Harrington gharrington@southbendin.gov and Hannah Teshka hteshka@southbendin.gov, naturalists at the Rum Village Nature Center.

Nature Skills

With nature as a classroom, there are many opportunities for young learners to demonstrate inquisitiveness, observe sequences or patterns, understand relationships and evaluate complex natural systems. These skills are valued in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Here are some ways to introduce nature to your classroom or visit nature with your students.

Bring Nature into Your Classroom Did you know that kids need nature? They do! Research shows that children who spend time outside are more creative, better problem solvers, healthier and more physically fit, more confident, better test takers, and less stressed!

Curriculum

  • Nature center curriculum seal.

    Nature Center Network Curriculum

    These units are designed by a Cope Environmental Center educator. Habitats Happen (K-1), Our Land Rocks (2-3), and What’s the Dirt on Soil (4-5) will help students learn use their senses, make observations, and learn about Indiana's natural heritage. Learn More

  • Children of Indiana Nature Park logo.

    Math Fun for Little Landowners

    If you are in a math mood, check out these fun problems to solve using your Nature IN-Deed! Download Now

  • Yellow and black tiger swallowtail on a purple flower.

    Pollinator Curriculum

    The lessons in the pollinator curriculum include the life-cycle of butterflies, the relationship between plants and pollinators and includes a puzzle! Download Now

  • Ball State University Logo

    Ball State University

    Caring for our environment is not only a scientific endeavor. These units will help kindergarten, third, and sixth grade students explore social and community factors that also affect how we relate to our natural world. Learn More

  • Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site Logo

    Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site Settlers and Surveyors Program

    The Settlers and Surveyors program brings Harrison family history alive as students learn how pioneers decided to settle the land. Read More

  • Nature Lab

    These resources are aligned to The Nature Conservancy's research and designed specifically for a young audience and classroom use. Units are available for grades K-12 and include virtual field trip opportunities. Nature Lab

  • Indiana state park DNR logo

    Indiana State Parks

    The Indiana State Parks have developed an elementary school curriculum for exploring Hoosier history through the lens of Indiana State Parks. View Now

Funding Resources

Need funding to help get your class and students outside? The funding resources below vary from grants for outdoor fields to planting a garden at your school. Whatever your project or goal is, there are ways to make it happen!

Indiana Native Plant Society
INPS Indiana Native Plant Society © INPS

Indiana Nature Plant Society (INPS) Letha’s Fund

Indiana Nature Plant Society (INPS) Letha’s Fund is available for school and youth group trips to experience nature in an educational context. Youth-initiated activities that bring them in closer contact with nature are also eligible for funding. Preferred groups are those with the least access to experiences in the natural environment.

Discover The Outdoors

Indiana Natural Resources Foundation

The Discover the Outdoors Fund (Tom Heck Memorial Fund) can help pay for school field trips that include outdoor education and interaction with our natural world. Grants are available to assist public, private parochial or homeschool educators in taking field trips to Indiana State Parks and Reservoirs. These field trips engage students in learning about Indiana’s fish, forests, wildlife or natural habitats and their conservation.

Captain planet pointing at the user next to text "Captain Planet Foundation"
Captain Planet Foundation

Captain Planet Foundation

Captain Planet Foundation invests in high-quality solution-based programs that embrace STEM learning and empower youth to become local and global environmental change-makers. Educators—both K-12 classroom and informal—who are interested in receiving support for students to design and implement hands-on environmental solutions are eligible for project funding.

Wild Ones

Wild Ones’ Seeds for Education

Wild Ones’ Seeds for Education grant program can help teachers and students to enhance their schoolyards with butterfly gardens, nature trails, prairies, woodland wildflower preserves and similar projects. Cash grants under $500 are available for plants and seeds, and in-kind donations from Nursery Partners can help stretch these dollars. Wild Ones’ can also help locate experts and information specific to your area.

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