The Learning Campus

PHOTO: the Learning Campus


Picture the scene when the 7.1 acre Learning Campus is complete on the north end of the Chicago Botanic Garden. You might notice older adults engaged in a tai chi class on the outdoor terrace, see students gathered for a class in the hornbeam room, watch little ones tracking the progress of twigs down the meandering stream or running and laughing through the caterpillar-like willow tunnel—all before you even step inside the light-filled atrium of the Education Center. In any case, the message will be clear: the Campus is an engaging place for learners of all ages, a nature retreat for inspiration, education, and exploration in the twenty-first century.

Besides the new 27,000-square-foot platinum LEED-certified Center, the Campus will include a new exploratory garden for children and families, as well as the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden, Kleinman Family Cove, and Robert R. McCormick Foundation Plaza and entry drive. As many as 200,000 people are expected to visit the Campus annually to attend classes, field trips, demonstrations, events, and more.

The Campus is part of Plants for Life 2020: The Keep Growing Campaign for the Garden. The $125 million capital and endowment initiative includes $26 million for the Campus. When complete, it will be one of the most comprehensive and sustainable centers for environmental education in the country. Already a leading U.S. public garden in the field of education, the Garden is poised to expand its role in teaching and developing innovative concepts in science education as the Campus matures.


The Education Center—a curving, architecturally distinctive building—will be at the heart of the Campus. The Center’s expanded science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programming will lay an educational foundation for children, youth, and adults to complement the Garden’s plant science research and academic training programs.

With a focus on gardening and environmental science education, the Center will serve students of every age, ability, and background. The Garden's youngest learners begin attending nature-based programs as babies with caregivers, move into Camp CBG and other educational programs and family activities as toddlers, and continue their nature-based learning through camp, after-school, and family programs as children and teens. In addition to providing space for these programs, the Center will also accommodate programs for teacher professional development, adult education, wellness and lifestyle, and the Science Career Continuum. Such an education continuum—preK through Ph.D.—is rare in the museum world.

PHOTO: the Learning Campus in bloomThe building contains five dedicated student classrooms for all ages; one adult classroom with an adjoining outdoor yard; two customized early childhood classrooms, with bathrooms, an enclosed courtyard, and outdoor play spaces; two flexible-use rooms; a large certified demonstration kitchen; and a nature laboratory that will allow for year-round teaching about plant and animal ecosystems. All elements of the Campus have been developed according to universal design principles, which dictate that the built environment should both reflect a high aesthetic standard and be usable by everyone, regardless of age or ability. For instance, a large amount of natural light, wide corridors, and universally designed public and classroom spaces will make the Center welcoming for individuals experiencing age, disease, or injury-related disabilities. Other features in the main atrium will allow visitors who have hearing or vision impairments easily decipher the resources of the Center. Also, the large demonstration kitchen, reached via both public and program areas, has been designed to welcome children and adults of all abilities and will feature roll-under work spaces, as well as seating at various heights.


Renowned landscape architect Mikyoung Kim has designed the Campus garden as a vibrant central place for children and other visitors to play and explore. Kim’s design captures the essence of play in nature with a lawn of grass-covered hillocks for rolling and resting, a shallow stream that invites little hands and toes, and logs and boulders for climbing and hiding.

A redbud grove will create an all-season interest gateway to the Campus, with a permanent site for Butterflies & Blooms nearby on the west side of the Center, directly through the two-story atrium. The Campus will also have plenty of space for evening activities such as roasting marshmallows in the terrace’s fire pit and stargazing.


Another important component of the Campus is the Grunsfeld Children's Growing Garden, a place for children to water, weed, and harvest plants, guided by expert instructors. The Children's Growing Garden opened in 2012. Here, garden beds are raised so little arms can reach the soil, and wheelchair-accessible trays in the raised beds allow students of all abilities to participate in activities. While the growing plants in the raised beds are watered and weeded, the demonstration beds (maintained by horticulturists) show young participants what their plants eventually will look like.

Along 800 feet of restored shoreline gardens, the Kleinman Family Cove highlights another part of the natural world: water. The Cove, which also opened in 2012, includes a canopied outdoor amphitheater that overlooks a small bay. It's a place for visitors to learn about aquatic plants and animals, along with the importance of freshwater systems.

Every part of the Campus is designed to be inviting, including the Robert R. McCormick Foundation Plaza and entry drive, which will be lined with flowering trees to attract pollinators and welcome the next generation of plant lovers and plant scientists—the environmental stewards on whom our planet depends.

The Learning Campus

Read about the Grunsfeld Children's Growing Garden, the Kleinman Family Cove, and the Education Center.

Funding for the entry drive and plaza was provided by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, and Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

The Grunsfeld Children's Growing Garden is made possible through the generosity of Esther Grunsfeld Klatz and Ernest A. Grunsfeld III; the Robert R. McCormick Foundation; Woman's Board of the Chicago Horticultural Society, the Guild of the Chicago Botanic Garden; and the support of the Public Museum Capital Grants Program, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois State Museum; Lorraine Ipsen-Stotler; Barbara and Richard Metzler; the Colonel Stanley R. McNeil Foundation; and Make It Better Magazine.

The Kleinman Family Cove was made possible by the generous support of the Kleinman Family.