Fall Festivities


Halloween Hunting in the Woods

Saturday October 29, 2016 4 – 8 pm

Play the woodland scavenger hunt game 4 – 6 pm to win a prize

Indoor activities 6 – 8 pm include:

Bobbing for Apples

Mask making

Pinecone critters


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Winter in the Woods Holiday Bazaar

Winter in the Woods Holiday Bazaar

Saturday November 12, 2016 9 am – 3 pm

Artists, Artisans, Crafters will display their wares for unique holiday gift shopping

We will also have chili and beverages available for purchase to help warm a chilly November day.

Booth space approximately 10 ft. wide is available for $20 (use of 6 ft table $5)

Fee for members is $10 plus use of table if needed.  Please contact woodlawnnaturecouncil@gmail.com to reserve a space. We will need to know what your product(s) is (are), if you need a table , and any information on floor displays.

Pop Up Adventure Nature Play Day

IMG_3674Pop Up Adventure Nature Play Day

Woodlawn Nature Center

June 13

10 am – 1 pm

Woodlawn Nature Center is hosting a Pop Up Adventure Nature Play Day on June 13 from 10 am to 1 pm in the Nature Explore certified outdoor classroom behind the Nature Center at 604 Woodlawn Avenue, Elkhart. In addition to the normal outdoor classroom activities, such as outdoor weaving, making music in nature, log climbing, den and fort building building, dirt digging, block building, messy materials, and nature art, children and families are invited to create with found and natural items during the Pop Up Play. There is no attendance fee though recycled or natural materials, such as boxes, lids, fabrics, glue and tape, paper bags, plastic bottles, pinecones, long sticks, etc. are requested as donations to the event and will help give more options for creative minds. The Nature Center will also be open for an additional fee of $3/child.

IMG_3427Nancy Brown from Elkhart County Soil and Water Conservation District, one of the event sponsors, mentioned, “It will be fun to go back to the times when the world was all about a child’s sense of adventure!” The Pop Up Adventure Nature Play Day will do just that—allow for active children’s play, creativity, building, and imagination. In an era when technology is consuming more of children’s time, providing safe, fun children’s activities that promote creativity and imagination is needed, as Woodlawn Nature Center regularly hosts Nature Play Days throughout the month on various topics. Later in the month, International Mud Day will be celebrated on June 29 as another Nature Play Day.

Industries that have waste that could be repurposed for creative purposes, such as electrical spindles, cardboard pieces and cones, string, straw bales, rope,  duct tape, packing tape, and other safe materials are also encouraged to contact Carla Gull at 966-0250 or woodlawnnaturecenteronline@gmail.com for donation purposes.

Visit the Calendar of Events for upcoming programs or follow Woodlawn Nature Center on Facebook.

Woodlawn Nature Center’s woods, outdoor classroom, and natural history museum are located within the Elkhart City limits on Woodlawn Avenue, two blocks East of Cassopolis Street. Woodlawn Nature Center celebrated 50 years in Elkhart in 2015.


Fairy Wings and Wild Things

13061988_1352644898085947_2084286705998024935_nCalling all gnomes, fairies, wild things, and magical creatures! Children, families, and interested community members are invited to celebrate the magic of fairy wings and wild things at Woodlawn Nature Center in Elkhart on Saturday, May 7, from 1-4 pm. The cost is $4/person, $10/family, or $2/member.

The Fairy Wings and Wild Things festival features fairy and garden themed crafts and activities, where children can make a fairy or other creature with natural and found objects, get faces painted, explore a fairy and gnome trail, participate in a costume contest, have special photo ops, join in the family nature club, make a fairy wand or gnome stick, brew fairy soup in the mud kitchen, and other fun activities. The event will also celebrate the opening of the new fairy garden section of the woods created by the Gobble family of Elkhart. Costumes are encouraged with a costume contest at 2:30.

In addition to the festival, please help encourage the magic of play at the Fairy Wings and Wild Things event at Woodlawn Nature Center on May 7 by creating a fairy garden, gnome hut, fairy door, or other miniature creation. Woodlawn Nature Center is asking for submissions of fairy gardens, gnome huts, and other accessories to help decorate “Wild Thing Way”, one section of the trail. Submissions should be able to withstand the weather and will be on display through Labor Day at which time they can be collected and/or left for disposal. Entries can be turned in to the front desk and then placed on the trail on May 7th from 12-12:45. The public is invited the Fairy Wings and Wild Things Event from 1-4 pm. The event goers will have ballots to vote on different categories during the event, with winners of the building contest being announced at 3:45 on Saturday. Fairy gardens and gnome huts can also be placed after the event for the public to enjoy.


Fairy Garden and Gnome Hut Guidelines

  1. Try to recycle or repurpose something for your entry if you can.
  2. The entry does not have to be a full fairy garden or gnome hut—feel free to get creative and think outside of the “garden”
  3. Please place within three feet of the designated path after checking in with Woodlawn Staff. Please be careful not to disturb the wildlife and plants along the path.
  4. Please make the item durable and ready for the weather, as it will be left outside.
  5. Woodlawn Nature Center is not responsible for any damage to the items.
  6. Please reserve the cleared out fairy garden spot for interactive use—do not place fairy gardens there.
  7. To be considered for the contest, please fill out the entry form in the nature center and place on the trail with your numbered marker (obtained in the Nature Center) by 12:45 on May 7. Please ask if assistance is needed to place the item. We will check the trails before hand, but please watch and be aware of poison ivy.
  8. Please do not drill into any living trees.
  9. Please remove the item if you wish to keep it by Labor Day, as the trail will be cleared soon after that.
  10. Please contact Carla Gull at woodlawnnaturecenteronline@gmail.com or 966-0250 with any questions.
  11. Look for ideas at: https://www.pinterest.com/outsidemichiana/wnc-fairies/

Thanks for making this magical place happen!

Celebrate Earth Day at Woodlawn Nature Center

Woodlawn Nature Center will host an Earth Day celebration on Friday, April 22, to enjoy the outdoors and celebrate the earth! The nature center will be open for special evening hours from 6 to 8 pm for Earth Day. The event will include a guided wildflower hike and campfire. The nationally certified outdoor classroom will be open with outside activities, as well as the many activities inside the nature center, such as the wigwam, native fish, dinosaur digging cave, loose parts play area, wildlife viewing window and more. The cost for the special hours and celebration is $2/person or $5/family and is free for members. Donations are always appreciated.

Earth Day started on April 22, 1970, as people showed support for a sustainable land that that valued the plants, animals, and ecosystems. Woodlawn Nature Center celebrates the earth every day by sharing environmental education programming, a nature center open to the public, and access to the trails through the woods.

Nature Inspired Tinkering


Nature inspires us in many ways, including in design and inventions. Hook and loop fastener (Velcro) is one product inspired by a walk in nature. “Hitchhiker” seeds attached to the socks and pants of the inventor, Georges de Mestral. He examined how they stick so well, using a microscope to see the tiny hooks on the burdock seeds.  Over time, he was able to develop a nylon tape with hooks inspired by the seeds that have been used in shoes, heart transplants, and so much more.

We can all look to nature for inspiration, whether through an evening walk, the wonder of a rainbow, or how a nest is built. Take it a step further to investigate how nature might teach us for design and inventing purposes. Woodlawn Nature Center will host several opportunities to learn about biomimicry and nature inspired tinkering. Check out the following events at Woodlawn Nature Center centered on biomimicry and nature inspired tinkering:

April 21, 1-3 pm, Homeschool Nature Play

April 22, 10am-noon, Nature Play

April 22, noon, Lunch and Learn

April 22, 1-2:30 pm, Family Nature Club

April 23, 6 pm, Biomimicry: Nature Inspired Tinkering!

The Homeschool Nature Play and Nature Play feature open ended activities related to nature inspired tinkering and additional open hours of the Nature Center. The Lunch and Learn is geared toward adults. Bring your lunch for a discussion of biomimicry. The Family Nature Club includes a short presentation, guided hike, an exploration time. These are included in the admission price. Reservations are appreciated by emailingwoodlawnnaturecenteronline@gmail.com. Visit the Calendar of Events for upcoming programs or follow Woodlawn Nature Center on Facebook.

The Biomimicry: Nature Inspired Tinkering program is a more in-depth program for ages 7-12 requiring preregistration and prepayment of $5. Register online at woodlawnnature.org today. Participants will explore inventions inspired by nature, “tinker” with appliances and circuits, test their own seed models in the wind tunnel, and investigate how nature can influence the design process. This will be a full STEM experience. This is an excellent opportunity for children who like to build, investigate, and experiment.

The Power of Loose Parts Play

by Dr. Carla Gull, http://www.insideoutsidemichiana.com

         Have you ever wondered why children are fascinated by the box their new toy arrives in or is always trying to pick up a stick? The theory of Loose Parts by Simon Nicholson explains it well. He stated, “In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kinds of variables in it.” In a child’s mind, all those loose bits of string, sticks, and other “treasures” are really components for building and creating.

            Last year, my youngest son had a simple request for his birthday present: “Sticks, lots of sticks!” He knew and recognized the power of a simple loose part that is actually included in the Toy Hall of Fame. To a child, a stick can be a sword, a writing utensil, a fence post, a fairy wand, or more. The possibilities are endless. Even adults get into the power of Loose Parts Play. A couple of years ago, I was able to work alongside Patrick Dougherty who never outgrew his affinity for sticks. Today, he makes twig sculptures all over the world, using a whimsical approach in outdoor spaces. Just visit Fernwood Botanical Gardens and Nature Preserve to see Take Five! and explore how he has taken the theory of Loose Parts to the next level!

          I experience the benefits on a regular basis as I host various activities and learning experiences at Woodlawn Nature Center. We set up a Loose Parts Play area that contains shelves of sticks, pinecones, tiles, fabric, blocks, acorn caps, milkweed pods, and more. Children (and sometimes adults!) use these various pieces to make creations that explore the natural world and help them make sense of what they are learning.

            One girl had attended our Nature Preschool group on a Monday morning. Our topic was birds. She returned on Friday, visiting the Loose Parts Play Area. In her normal play, she built an anatomically correct bird out tree cookies, pinecones, pipe cleaners, and sweet gum balls. She was able to tell us about the beak, talons, wings, and body parts. In her normal play, she was making sense of what she was learning and demonstrating her understanding of the natural world around her through Loose Parts Play.

Additionally, the Nature Explore nationally certified classroom at Woodlawn Nature Center has areas to explore Loose Parts Play. Whether children are dragging long branches to make their own Dougherty inspired twig sculpture, working together to lift a tree cookie to build a ramp, or creating a fort out of long pieces of outdoor fabric, children are able to use loose parts to create and build. This builds and strengthens their connection to nature.

            Loose Parts Play generally is open-ended. Items can be combined in many different ways. There are no specific directions. The participants determine how the materials will be used. The materials can be adapted in many ways. A Sweet Gum ball may be a wheel on a car one minute, or the eye of a bird the next minute.  Richard Louv suggested, “Nature is imperfectly perfect, filled with loose parts and possibilities, with mud and dust, nettles and sky, transcendent hands-on moments and skinned knees.”

          Benefits of Loose Parts Play abound. Besides the imagination and creativity, loose parts play promotes cooperation, experiences using all the senses, concrete examples of abstract concepts, developmentally appropriate practices, ownership of one’s learning, inclusive play, and moving, learning, and fun! This is learning!

            What are the components of Loose Parts? Almost anything! We typically use a combination of natural materials and found objects or discards from industry. Woodlawn Nature Center is always looking for donations of items that might fit into these categories to help fulfill its mission of connecting others to nature. Some examples include pinecones, sticks, tree cookies, wooden or wool balls, sand, water, fabric, clay, picture frames, twine, nuts, mulch, stones, straw bales, leaves, boxes, and blocks. As I shared the theory of Loose Parts Play with local Indiana Master Naturalists, many remarked this is just how they used to play as children. As electronics and overscheduled lives have crept into our world, our children do not have as many opportunities for natural free play like this.

            Loose Parts Play can be set up as a station, included in the classroom as a writing prompt, used as an impromptu activity on the trail, as a pretest or assessment of learning, as nature art, in a sensory bin, and more! The possibilities are endless.

Want to learn more about Loose Parts Play? Check out the Facebook Group Loose Parts Play for ideas and suggestions. Educators and parents from around the world share how they are using Loose Parts. I will also present “Loose Parts Play for Parents” at Woodlawn Nature Center on February 26, 2016, at 6:30 pm. The cost is $3/person, with proceeds going directly to operating costs of the Center. The parent workshop will explore the theory of Loose Parts Play, explaining why children often seem more intrigued with the box than the toys we buy them, looking at open-ended toy options, and touching on how to use Loose Parts effectively in the home environment. Reservations are appreciated by emailing woodlawnnaturecenteronline@gmail.com.

Additionally, watch for upcoming programs at Woodlawn Nature Center, such as Nature Inspired Tinkering in April, Fairy Wings and Wild Things in May, Pop-Up Adventure Play and International Mud Day in June, and our regularly scheduled nature play days! See Loose Parts Quotes and Loose Parts Worksheets on the blog!

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is Woodlawn Nature Center located?

Woodlawn Nature Center’s woods, nationally certified outdoor classroom, and natural history museum are located within the Elkhart City limits on Woodlawn Avenue, two blocks East of Cassopolis Street.

When is Woodlawn Nature Center open?

Woodlawn Nature Center is open to the public Fridays-Sunday from 12-5 pm. Additionally, the Center is busy throughout the week for programs, field trips, special interest groups, and member use of the facility.

What is the mission of Woodlawn Nature Center?

The mission of Woodlawn Nature Center is to connect people with nature, natural history, and the environment.

What is offered at Woodlawn Nature Center?

Inside Woodlawn Nature Center find a dinosaur digging cave, a wildlife viewing window, fish native to our area, a recreated wigwam with extensive Native artifacts, a tribute to Indiana’s natural history, insect collection, loose parts play area, musical instruments from around the world, mammals, birds, and much more! Be sure to say hi to the Eastern Box Turtle!

Outside Woodlawn Nature Center find a developing, nationally certified outdoor classroom and playscape with nature art, messy materials, digging, water, open play, climbing, and other areas for children to connect with nature as part of a nationally certified outdoor classroom. There are also 10 acres of woods with trails winding throughout.

What is the target audience of Woodlawn Nature Center?

Woodlawn’s target audience is people in the greater Michiana area who want to learn more about nature, including programming for families with children, seasoned adults, school groups, etc.

How is Woodlawn Nature Center funded?

While some revenue is generated through programming and membership fees, Woodlawn Nature Center relies on generous support from individuals in our community.

What is the history of Woodlawn Nature Center?

Woodlawn Nature Center celebrated 50 years in Elkhart in 2015. Dorothy Greenleaf Boynton donated the land to the city. The Nature Center was built soon after. The area has continuously operated since the beginning to provide natural services to the community.

What is Woodlawn Nature Center’s relationship with the City of Elkhart?

The City of Elkhart leases the building to Woodlawn Nature Council, the governing body of Woodlawn Nature Center and a 501c3. While the city of Elkhart helps with some aspects of operation such as trash pick up and occasional maintenance, Woodlawn Nature Council provides operating funds, programming, cleaning, and the vision of the Center.

Why do people visit Woodlawn Nature Center?

People visit the Nature Center to connect with nature. They enjoy their visits with the following feedback:

-Great place to let your kids explore even when they can’t explore outside!

-This place is great entertainment when you want to have fun close! They have a few pretty peaceful trails, a small park, and a really amazing nature center.

-A hidden gem in Elkhart and a must-see, especially for homeschoolers!

-The teachers are so patient and NURTURING. Very creative with activities and well structured.

-After preschool my child was so much more aware and excited about things in nature .

-My girls have really shown more interest in being outdoors.

-Nature Preschool has given my children an opportunity to discover that they can learn about the natural world in a fun, hands-on way. They have been inspired to want to learn more, which is every parent’s hope.

What are Woodlawn’s 3 biggest needs?

Woodlawn Nature Center needs funding to run quality programming.

  1. Educational Program Funds
  2. Improvements to Exhibits and Facility
  3. Annual Funds

How can I help Woodlawn Nature Center?

Woodlawn Nature Center needs community support to survive and thrive. There are many ways, small and large, to make a real impact. Many are tax deductible. Here are some ways to help:

  • Become a member
  • Volunteer or serve on the board
  • Direct donations
  • Help with Woodlawn’s wish list
  • Carry out a service project
  • Make a lasting, legacy donation directly to Woodlawn or through Woodlawn’s ECCF fund

How can I make a donation?

Donations can be made in a variety of ways:

  • Online at woodlawnnature.org
  • By mail–604 Woodlawn Ave. Elkhart, IN, 46514
  • In person at Woodlawn Nature Center
  • Other arrangements with a board member

Thank You for Supporting YOUR Nature Center!

Get to Know 7 Backyard Woodpeckers

Winter is a great time to explore birds as the white landscape and bare trees allow us to easily see movement and color. One bird I especially like to watch is the woodpecker. April Pulley-Sayre, a local nature author, recently came out with a delightful book for children focusing on woodpeckers we find in our area and their behaviors. With detailed and realistic cut paper woodpeckers, WoodpeckerWham! is a treat for children and adults. Here are a few woodpeckers we have in our area and how they act during winter. They typically stay in the same range during the winter, changing their eating habits to find nutritious and easily available foods.

· Downy—The smallest woodpecker in our area appears to have a downy appearance from the feathers. I watch for the size of the bill—if it was shorter than half the width of the head, then I know it’s a downy.


A Downy Woodpecker is smaller and typically has a shorter bill than the Hairy Woodpecker. Photo by Beth Amos.


· Hairy—The hairy looks like a larger downy, only slightly larger. The bill is about the same width of the head. They have white fronts, patterned black and white backs, and a red patch on the crown of males.

· Yellow-bellied Sapsucker—These small birds are typically black and white, with red foreheads. Males have a red throat. These are boldly marked with distinct white and stripe on the wings. Watch for a row of small holes, allowing the sap to be eaten.

· Northern Flicker—These may forage on the ground for insects using an unusually curved bill. With black spots, crescents, and bars on a background of brown plumage, these large woodpeckers are pretty to see. You might see yellow as they fly.


Note the beige back and spotted belly of the Northern Flicker. Photo by Beth Amos. 

· Red-headed—With a full red head, rather than a patch, these majestic looking birds have a solid white belly and solid black back, with a patch of white on the back.


A Red-headed Woodpecker has a fully covered red head, as if it had been dipped in read, rather than the patch of red on the Red-bellied Woodpecker below. Photo by Beth Amos. 

· Red-bellied—A barred pattern on the back and red crown and nape makes this a distinct bird. A faint red or rosy patch on the belly gives it its name. Many confuse this with the Red-headed woodpecker due to the patch of red on top.


The Red-bellied Woodpecker has a faint red or rosy patch on its belly, hence the name. Photo by Beth Amos

· Pileated—The largest of the woodpeckers in our area, the bright red crest and black and white patterned face is distinct and easy to see as it flies in the woods. Their nest holes provide important shelter for other small animals.

As we started watching backyard birds, the woodpeckers were the ones we started figuring out first. They loved our suet cakes and would frequently come to our feeders when suet or peanut butter is out.

These are typical behaviors and adaptations we noticed:

· Drumming—Woodpeckers often use drumming to communicate territory boundaries or attract a mate, though it may also be used to drill a hole or get an insect out.

· Bills as tools—Woodpeckers use their bills to help pry food out of trees. They do not actually eat wood, but wood chips can be found near where they have been drilling.

· Altered diets—Woodpeckers change what they eat in the winter, mostly eating seeds and nuts. Some will even store these for later use. Providing suet, sunflower seeds, and peanut butter in backyard feeding areas will attract woodpeckers in winter.

· Stiff tail feathers—These feathers help provide balance and stability while drumming or drilling on trees.

· Sharp claws—Feet help the birds cling to bark. Their “zygodactyl” (two toes facing forward and two facing backward) feet allow them to be stable on trees while they look for food.

· Brain protection—Extra sinew near the bill and the brain help alleviate potential brain damage with all the drilling.

· Debris blockers—Woodpeckers have special feathers near their noses and translucent third eyelid to protect from flying sawdust.

Knowing our backyard birds helps us connect to nature and understand the world around us. If you’d like to learn more about woodpeckers, I am leading several opportunities at Woodlawn Nature Center in January.

January 22: Nature Play, 10am-noon, Woodpeckers Wham!–This open play time with extra activities centered on woodpeckers is geared toward children with an adult caregiver. Cost $3/child or free for members.

January 22: Woodpeckers in the Winter, 6:30 pm–This informative class will include a presentation and up close look at woodpeckers in our area. Cost: Free. Please reserve a spot by emailing woodlawnnaturecenteronline@gmail.com by Monday, January 18.

January 23: Family Nature Club: Woodpeckers Wham!, 1-2:30 pm–After an interactive presentation geared toward children and their families, we take a hike in the woods to look for evidence of woodpeckers and habitat that is good for Woodpeckers. Open exploration time of the nature center and special hands-on activities centered on woodpeckers will be available. Cost $3/child or free for members.

Interested in a membership to Woodlawn Nature Center? Visit Woodlawn’s website for more information. Visit the Calendar of Events for upcoming programs or follow Woodlawn Nature Center on Facebook.

By Dr. Carla Gull from Inside Outside Michiana

All photos are by Beth Amos, a member of the Nature Nook Book Group. All rights reserved.

Winter-in-the-Woods Holiday Open House and Free Admission Day

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Join us for our Winter Open House!

Enjoy a Warm Cup of Holiday Cheer and Refreshments
Create and Take a Unique Holiday Ornament
Take in the Wonders of Nature on a Winter Walk
Fashion a Photo Opportunity with Santa
Discover our Indoor and Outdoor Nature Classrooms
Experience Interactive Natural History Exhibits
Learn the Joy of Connecting with Nature

Wear your favorite silly or fancy holiday hat for a chance to win an annual Basic Family Membership or Holiday Wreath.
Saturday, December 12
1:00 – 5:00 pm

ANCA Team Visits Woodlawn Nature Center

President Grant Humbarger announced that thanks to funding provided by a grant from the Elkhart County Community Foundation, board member donations, and in-kind contributions of individuals who have an interest in the future of Woodlawn Nature Center, Woodlawn Nature Council welcomed a consulting team from the Association of Nature Center Administrators November 12 – 14. ANCA is a private nonprofit organization founded to create a professional association for leaders in the nature center profession. The purpose of the ANCA team visit was to meet with a variety of area stakeholders, review the operations and role of Woodlawn Nature Center, and provide guidance on moving forward to best serve the community.

ANCA promotes and supports best leadership and management practices for the nature and environmental learning center profession. Primary focuses of ANCA are to maintain a professional network, promote the identity and professional educational facility status, and provide products and services that will improve performance for the directors and administrators of nature and environmental learning centers.

The ANCA team spent time getting to know the features of the Nature Center and held various meetings with groups that included Woodlawn’s board members and volunteers, past board members and directors, Elkhart Parks and Recreation board members, Woodlawn members, attendees of Woodlawn programs, and other community members who have or have had a connection with the Center. They asked questions to determine what stakeholders see as best features, what community members know about Woodlawn, in what ways Woodlawn is connecting and can connect with the community, and historical and current organizational strengths and opportunities. The consult ended with a summary session Saturday evening where each team member presented segments of a preliminary assessment of Woodlawn’s strengths, opportunities, threats, action and strategic plan suggestions, and recommended practices and steps for capacity building.

The team will next analyze the information they collected and provide a comprehensive report. The report will detail the consult, show the results of the analysis, and provide recommendations for building Woodlawn Nature Council’s capacity to provide opportunity for community members to discover, experience and learn the value of our relationship with nature.

by Vicci Moore


Thank You!