Students show off a frog they discovered during the Wetland Investigation lesson.
Simply put…because it can improve both classroom learning and classroom behavior.
There is no doubt that as a teacher, you get pulled in many directions as you try to offer your students the best possible educational opportunities. It is a balancing act – you have to make some tough choices about how your students spend their time.
It’s worth knowing though, that a variety of research has shown that creatively engaging children with the natural world on a regular basis can make a huge difference in their health, well-being, and ability to learn. Did you know…
Of course, some your students’ outdoor time needs to occur when they are with their families and friends – those are the opportune times for free, unstructured play in natural areas. But, you and your school can also help connect them with nature by providing more outdoor education opportunities, making sure that they continue to have outdoor recess, and even “greening” the school grounds with naturalized areas.
To learn more:
Nature Explore Classrooms serve as gateways to connect children with nature.
Natural Teachers Network, Children & Nature Network
Be Out There, National Wildlife Federation
Schoolyard Habitat Program, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Creating Schoolyard Habitats
Creating a schoolyard habitat requires students to think scientifically and apply their thinking in a real-life project.
Given the many benefits of providing your students with learning experiences in natural areas, creating a schoolyard habitat at your own school is something worth considering. Schoolyard habitat projects both create and support learning about the natural world over the long term.
You may be wondering, what exactly is a schoolyard habitat? For the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a schoolyard habitat is a natural habitat area that is created by students, for students, with community support. It is ecologically sound, integrated into the school curriculum, and designed to encourage long-term stewardship.
There are many benefits of creating a schoolyard habitat – for your students, for you, for your school, and for your community. A few of the benefits are as follows:
Outdoor Activities and Curricula
Students look on as a USFWS employee teaches about birding on the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge.
As you know, there is a wealth of information on the Internet about environmental education. There are many organizations that provide information and activities, including federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, and more. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has a variety of activity guides available at the national level, as well as some activity guides that are specific to certain locations.
The Glaciers are Melting - This educational story is based on the classic Chicken Little fable and depicts how global warming will impact the plants and animals that reside in the mountains when their glacial habitat is lost. It deals with the concept of global warming in a way that is easy for children to understand and includes free resources and teaching activities online.
Biologist in Training (BiT) - The BiT activity booklet includes five fun, interactive activities that will help students gain the skills needed to be good biologists and discover why it’s important to care for our precious aquatic resources. Once students complete all five activities they are eligible to receive an official Biologist-in-Training certificate and patch or sticker!
Cyber Salmon - At this web site, you can learn great things about chum, Chinook, pink, sockeye, and coho salmon, the five Pacific salmon species found in the Yukon River drainage.
Green Thumb Challenge - The Green Education Foundation (GEF) aims to connect children with nature and the healthy benefits of gardening. GEF provides schools and youth groups with beginner-friendly resources to plant gardens of any size, in addition to fun activities and standards-based lessons linking the classroom to the garden. All participants have the opportunity to be awarded a $5,000 grant in recognition of their garden project.
Junior Duck Stamp Program - The Federal Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program is a dynamic arts curriculum that teaches wetlands and waterfowl conservation to students in kindergarten through high school. The program incorporates scientific and wildlife management principles into a visual arts curriculum with participants completing a Duck Stamp design as their visual “term papers.” They can compete for state and national recognition. The national winner’s design is printed on the annual Junior duck Stamp.
Endangered Species Day Program - Learn about the numerous educational resources available as well as the 2013 Endangered Species Day Youth Art Contest.
Earth Learning Idea – This program offers weekly lessons in PDF format. Sign up for their free lessons which cover the gamut of science but always things kids can do at home.
Curriculum Matters! - This website is a resource that provides inspiration and practical ideas for K-12 teachers who seek meaningful and authentic ways to embed learning in local places.
Non-formal Environmental Education Programs: Guidelines for Excellence comprises a set of recommendations for developing and administering high quality programs. The publication points out six key characteristics. Order your copy from NAAEE today.
Schoolyard Habitat - The Schoolyard Habitat Program helps teachers and students create wildlife habitat at their own schools. Typical projects include: wetlands, meadows, forests and variations based on specific ecoregions. Many projects are planned through multiple phases and change over time as children from various classes build upon the existing work of past students.
Shorebird Sister Schools Program - The Shorebird Sister Schools Program is a science-based environmental education program designed to engage participants in learning about shorebirds and their conservation. The program was created to support a multi-national effort to protect shorebird populations and their habitats along all the major flyways.
The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute - We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children's Activity & Nutrition) is a national movement designed to give parents, caregivers, and entire communities a way to help children 8 to 13 years old stay at a healthy weight.
Announcing a New Junior Duck Stamp Curriculum
The new Junior Duck Stamp curriculum guides meet a number of national educational standards
Created two decades ago as an innovative way to teach children about wetlands and waterfowl, the Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program reaches more than 27,000 students each year, giving them the opportunity to learn scientific principles, connect with their natural world, and artistically express their knowledge of the beauty, diversity and interdependence of wildlife.
A just-released, updated educational curriculum is designed to spark kids’ interest in habitat conservation and careers in natural resources through science, art, math and technology.
As part of its 20th Anniversary, the Junior Duck Stamp Program has updated its hallmark arts and science curriculum to make it fresh, modern and even more relevant and engaging for today’s teachers and students. The new Educators Guide and Youth Guide provide 10 lesson plans, with exercises and activities focusing on conservation science, our changing natural world, and fun. The new curriculum guides are available for download at www.fws.gov/juniorduck/curriculum.
Written, field-tested and evaluated by educators and biologists, the new curriculum includes such elements as using the internet as a conservation tool and discussion about today’s conservation challenges, including climate change and its impact on wetland habitat. It is multi-culturally relevant and available to all American students, and it incorporates information about careers in conservation.
To make them useful right off the shelf, the new Junior Duck Stamp curriculum guides meet a number of national educational standards, including the National Science Education Standards, North American Association for Environmental Education standards and National Visual Arts education standards for children in grades K-12.
Later this year, we will release curriculum guide supplements for homeschool educators and nonformal educators such as scout groups, 4-H and national wildlife refuge education specialists – watch this space for details!
Planning Outdoor Trips
Children are pictured looking for birds at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum.
You may have a wealth of experience in organizing outdoor trips and already be familiar with an effective planning process. However, the following tips may serve as a reminder or be helpful to those who are newer to field trip planning and preparation.
Careful planning can mean the difference between just a fun day outside and a meaningful learning experience. Also, as you know, it is not just the teacher who needs to be prepared for a field trip – your students also need to plan and prepare.
An outdoor classroom
During your planning, we suggest that you think of the field trip site as a classroom without walls, a place where you can enhance your students’ classroom learning experiences. Just as you plan your learning objectives when teaching in the classroom, you should develop specific objectives for the field trip, and plan accordingly. Also, your field trip will be most effective if you incorporate pre-trip and post-trip activities to help the students prepare for the trip and wrap up their learning afterwards.
Schedule a field trip date
Check the school and community calendar for conflicts. If applicable, call the site staff to reserve a trip date. Notify the site staff if there are any students in your group with specific needs. Also, discuss with the site staff how you can best plan for inclement weather.
Become familiar with the site
If possible, visit the site before your field trip. Take note places where groups can gather as well as the locations of restrooms, etc. If possible, take the time to meet the site staff. Because every outdoor site changes with the seasons, plan the “pre-field trip” visit in the same season as you plan to bring your students.
Get input and suggestions from the students
Involve the students in planning the field trip. Allowing them to have input about the trip may increase their interest and excitement. The students may enrich the trip by providing you with new and creative ideas. Ask them, “What would you like to do, see, and learn at the site?
Recruit adult group leaders
Ask interested parents for their participation in the field trip by sending an email or letter. You may want to provide a summary of the field trip general objectives, as well as a summary of the responsibilities of the adult group leaders.
Develop your field trip schedule
A field trip runs more smoothly when all participants know where they are supposed to be at what times. As you plan your itinerary, remember you will need to be flexible and adaptable. Inclement weather and delayed buses can require schedule adjustments. All field trip leaders should have a copy of the trip schedule.
Divide your students into small groups
Before you go, divide your students into smaller learning groups as needed. Obtain name tags for students. (Name tags are helpful for both your group leaders and the site staff.) It is fun to use plant or animal coded name tags to designate the groups.
Hold group leader orientation or distribute group leader informational letter
You might want to hold an orientation prior to the field trip so group leaders know their responsibilities and have an understanding of the trip schedule before the trip date. If a meeting is not possible, send out an informational email/letter that explains group leader responsibilities and the field trip schedule. In the note, remind group leaders of their responsibilities as well as what to bring on the trip. If applicable, provide group leaders with a copy of the activity they will be facilitating.
Take care of the permission slips and any equipment/clothing needs.
Give students their permission slips and a deadline for return of the slips. You may want to include a request for parent group leaders if you do not have enough group leaders. In the permission slip, include a detailed list of the materials the students will need to bring. Include this list on a note home to the parents to ensure the students come with the necessary clothes and equipment.
Do pre-visit activities and go over safety procedures
You can divide students into their field trip groups for these pre-visit activities to help group bonding and team strengthening.
The Day of the Field Trip
Hold a meeting with all parent group leaders (and other educators, if possible) before school to fill them in on the schedule details, answer any questions, and discuss any last minute changes. Assign the group leaders to their groups, and provide them with a list of their students. Give them specific jobs for the trip, as needed. Make sure the group leaders know they have the authority to redirect inappropriate student behavior and make decisions if an educator is busy or unavailable.
Bring supplies to the loading area
Ask the students to help you bring the necessary materials to the bus loading area (water jugs, first aid kit, activity materials, etc.). Make sure you have any required medications for students.
Bring a camera/video camera and cell phone
It can be fun and useful to record the day’s events – you can show the administration and future classes the benefits of this field trip. Give the number of the cell phone to the office. If possible, turn the ringer off and the vibrate function on so as to not disturb the outdoor experience. Direct the parents to turn their cell phones to the vibrate function.
Check in with the site staff upon arrival
Even if you are not going to have the site staff provide an introduction upon arrival, let the site staff know that you have arrived. This allows the staff to inform you of any last minute changes or other information (e.g. wildlife that has been spotted recently, closed roads, etc.). Stop at the restroom before going out to the site.
Remind students of appropriate behaviors and to stay where they are if they get lost. Students should be with a buddy at all times. Have students look out for each other on the trip. Never let students go to the restrooms without a buddy.
Go over the itinerary on arrival
Discuss the itinerary with the students so they know what to expect.
If you borrow any of the site staff’s educational equipment, count and return it in the same condition you found it. You may want to assign an adult to be in charge of this at the end of the day.
Check out with site staff on leaving
Do a post-visit activity
A field trip that occurs in isolation will not be as effective as a field trip that is integrated with classroom experiences. Use post-visit activities to help students synthesize their learning.
Discuss student questions and comments
Let students research the answers to any questions they had about what they saw and experienced at the refuge.
Assess student learning
Use some of the extensions/adaptations and assessment ideas listed after each activity description.
Give us feedback
Provide the site staff with feedback.
To learn more visit: