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For Educators

Up close and personal with a Henry's marsh moth caterpillar

"The objective is to teach the student to see the land, to understand what he sees, and enjoy what he understands." Aldo Leopold

The PWLC invites you to participate in our three educational programming options:  preschool - 5th grade 1/2 day or full day field investigations, 6th-8th grade field studies, and overnight visits for 5th graders and older.  Home school families are welcome to call and book our Nature Journaling lesson which is very adaptable for a variety of ages.  A minimum of 10 children in attendance is required for all groups.  


The PWLC offers several half-day series of environmental education programs specifically designed for each preschool-5th grade level which help support the current Minnesota Academic Standards in Science and Language Arts. We strongly encourage schools to participate in each of these field investigations developed for Fall, Spring, and Winter.  Students gain a better understanding of the Prairie Pothole Region when they experience the seasonal changes and program development by participating in each field investigation of the grade level series. For a full day experience, classes can also stay for an afternoon Nature Journaling session after completing the seasonal field investigation for their grade level.  Continue to scroll down to the next two sections for listings by grade level and by season.


The PWLC also offers seasonal environmental education programs for 6th-8th grade.  Please scroll down to the bottom of this page for more information.

As a residential facility, the PWLC provides overnight trips as well for 5th grade and older, with lodging in our modern dormitory.  For details, please call 218-998-4481. 


Preschool - 5th Grade Field Investigations Listed by GRADE LEVEL 

(To view a listing by season, please scroll down to the bottom of this page.)




Season:            Fall

Title:                Prairie Wetlands Explorers 

Description:       Students walk in small groups, each group carrying a backpack, map, and star pocket.  They look for three special items on the map (prairie, wetlands, and oak savannah).  When they find these items, they receive an explorer star to put in their star pocket.  Along the way, they use their senses to explore what they find (such as water, plants, soil, wind, sun).  Students discuss why maps are important at the PWLC and take home a PWLC trail map.


Season:            Winter
Title:                 Nature Detectives
Description:       Students listen to a short story about animal tracks, and then go outside for a field investigation. They become detectives, look for evidence left behind, use their curiosity and make discoveries about animals that live at the PWLC using first-hand evidence. 


Season:            Spring

Title:               Birds of the Prairie Wetlands

Description:       Starting indoors, students begin with a dress-up activity demonstrating the characteristics of birds.  They predict how many different kinds of birds they will see outside.  On the trail, they use binoculars to observe birds and describe their physical characteristics and make comparisons between the birds they observed.  An adult tally marks each different kind observed.  Back inside, students compare their results to their predictions and share other discoveries.



Season:            Fall
Title:                 Prairie Sensory Walk 
Description:       Students use their senses of touch, sight, hearing, and smell to explore, observe and make discoveries about the prairie.  They ask and answer questions about the prairie based upon what they already know and what they experience while walking in the prairie.


Season:            Winter

Title:                 Wetland Wonders 
Description:       Students go on a discovery hike at Mallard Marsh and use their senses of touch, smell, hearing, and sight to explore and observe. They may measure snow depth on their leg, handle snow, crust, feel the texture of cattail seeds, search for and walk on pond ice, find tracks/vents, listen to sounds, smell bergamot if accessible and sit quiet and still to play Fox and Rabbits.


Season:            Spring

Title:                 Wetland Awareness  
Description:       Students use their senses of touch, sight, hearing, and smell to explore, observe and make discoveries about a wetland. They ask and answer questions about the wetland based upon what they already know and what they experience while investigating.




Season:            Fall
Title:                 Habitat Basics 
Description:       Students ask and answer their own questions about prairie and wetland plants and animals. Students then search for plants and animals in the prairie and a wetland. Using movements, they vote on the level of food, water, shelter, light, and air each plant and animal needs. Lastly, they review which animals and plants were found in which habitats and why.


Season:            Winter

Title:                 Animal Habitats 
Description:       Students investigate winter animals of the prairie and how resisting animals use their habitat to obtain their basic needs in our coldest season. They discover, identify, record, and use evidence of winter animals in the field to support their conclusions.


Season:            Spring

Title:                 Animal Families  
Description:       Students make predictions as well as ask and answer their own questions about animal families. They search for animals in the prairie and a wetland to observe parents and offspring. Using a checklist, they track which parents and which offspring they find. Back inside, students compare their results to their predictions and share other discoveries.




Season:            Fall
Title:                 Monarch Tagging
Description:       Students brainstorm questions about tagging monarchs.  They search for, observe, and hopefully capture, tag, and release migrating monarchs in the prairie.  They record their observations on a data sheet and share their results.  Lastly, they discuss the results of their investigation.


Season:            Winter
Title:                 Wildlife Mysteries  
Description:       Students design and conduct a field investigation about active winter animals and the clues they leave behind. They use those clues to try and solve animal mysteries (or answer their investigation questions).  They practice “reading the land.”


Season:            Spring
Title:                 Amazing Animals
Description:       Students conduct a field investigation about animal characteristics based upon their own questions.  Through observing, collecting, and recording field data, they investigate prairie and wetland birds, invertebrates, mammals, and possibly other wildlife and their physical traits and behaviors.  They use their observations and data to answer their questions and build their knowledge about how science works and about our amazing local animal life.



Season:            Fall
Title:                 Prairie Seed Harvesting
Description:       Students participate in a scientific investigation with prairie seeds that is driven by their own inquiry. They collect seeds outdoors from several plant species and examine them during an indoor lab. They discover the parts as well as adaptations of prairie seeds.  
Season:            Late Winter/Early Spring
Title:                 Restoring the Prairie 
Description:       Students design an investigation about prairie restoration driven by their own questions. They participate directly in restoring the prairie by planting seeds outside. If available, students tour the greenhouse to observe parts of prairie plants at another stage in their life cycle.


Season:            Spring

Title:                 Bird Investigation
Description:       Using the KWL model, students discuss what they know about birds, what they wonder or would like to know, and then venture into the field to investigate and answer their questions.




Season:            Fall
Title:                 Prairie Insects 
Description:       During an investigation, students examine land insects in the prairie. They generate questions, collect and closely observe prairie insects, and record data about them. They also classify their collected insects and discover their importance in the prairie.


Season:            Winter
Title:                 Snowshoeing Investigation
Description:       In the morning, students investigate the design and use of snowshoes. They make predictions and compare and contrast walking through snow in boots versus snowshoes.  After lunch, students then use snowshoes to explore winter ecology on the prairie.  They compare their predictions with what they discovered about snowshoes and share what they observed on the prairie during the discovery hike.


Season:            Spring

Title:                 Prairie Wetlands Watersheds
Description:       Students design and conduct a field investigation based upon their existing knowledge and questions. They collect and record data and map at least one watershed to help answer their questions.




Season:            Fall
Title:                 Favorites in the Prairie
Description:       Students are introduced to naturalists as scientists and to author Byrd Baylor as one example of a naturalist. They listen to a story by Byrd Baylor called Guess Who My Favorite Person Is. Then as naturalists themselves, students search for their favorites in the prairie and record them in their notebooks. Lastly, they share their favorites with each other and consider applications of their field work.


Season:            Winter
Title:                 Seton Watch 
Description:       Students find out about the life of naturalist and author Ernest Thompson Seton and listen to an excerpt of his writing.  Outside, students sit singly and quietly to observe snow crystals, snow pack, weather, and/or ice and record their observations along with a word bank.  Back inside, they share their discoveries and use their field notes to write a short poem back at school.


Season:            Spring
Title:                 The Sense of Wonder  
Description:       Students are introduced to naturalists as scientists and to author Rachel Carson as one example of a naturalist and listen to an excerpt from her book, The Sense of Wonder. Then, using a data collection sheet set up inside, students go outside to search for wonder. Afterwards, they share their discoveries and draw conclusions.




Seasons:          All

Title:                  Nature Journaling (K-6)

Description:         After a mini-lesson on nature journaling, students participate in a field activity, investigation, or lab, recording their observations, data, and discoveries in their field journals. Students share their results and reflect upon their discoveries, then determine how they will use their material in order to share their experience with others. Suitable for novice and experienced journalists alike.


Nature journaling can be added as a second program for the afternoon for K-6 grades that have completed a morning program at the PWLC. Field activitiies for nature journaling include:


1. Invertebrates - Collect, examine, describe, measure, sketch, and release prairie OR wetland “bugs” -- choose one habitat

2. Small things - Examine one meter square of prairie; record discoveries with numbers, words, maps, sketches.

3. Plants (May through September) - Closely examine, describe, sketch, measure, identify a prairie and/or a wetland plant – choose one habitat or both.

4. Nature journaling sampler - Use several tools to aid in prairie wetland journaling such as hand lens, cloud chart, view finder, compass, thermometer, and binoculars.

5. Weather Trek - Practice using a thermometer, ruler or meter stick; record data and sky observations.

6. Patterns in Nature - Look for numbers, letters, and shapes in the prairie and wetlands.


K-5th Grade Field Investigations Listed by SEASON  

Fall Field Investigations

Preschool        Prairie Wetlands Explorers

Kindergarten   Prairie Sensory Walk

1st Grade        Habitat Basics
2nd Grade       Monarch Tagging
3rd Grade        Prairie Seed Harvesting

4th Grade        Prairie Insects
5th Grade        Favorites in the Prairie

K-5th Grades   Nature Journaling 


Winter Field Investigations

Preschool        Nature Detectives

Kindergarten   Wetland Wonders
1st Grade        Animal Habitats
2nd Grade       Wildlife Mysteries
3rd Grade        Restoring the Prairie
4th Grade        Snowshoeing Investigation

5th Grade        Seton Watch
K-5th Grades   Nature Journaling 


Spring Field Investigations

Preschool        Birds of the Prairie Wetlands

Kindergarten   Wetlands Awareness  

1st Grade        Animal Families
2nd Grade       Amazing Animals
3rd Grade        Bird Investigation
4th Grade        Prairie Wetlands Watersheds 
                                    PowerPoint for Fourth Grade Prairie Wetlands Watersheds

5th Grade        The Sense of Wonder
K-5th Grades   Nature Journaling 


6th - 8th Grade Field Studies 

For 6th-8th grades, the PWLC uses the Lessons in a Land Ethic curriculum developed by the Leopold Education Project through Pheasants Forever.  In total, it consists of 21 lesson plans designed to use with the essays found in Aldo Leopold’s conservation classic, A Sand County Almanac.   For our day use visits, we use only three of those 21 lessons, a different lesson each season for 6th-8th graders, and we have adapted it for our use with field journals.  The Lessons in a Land Ethic curriculum guide currently is available for purchase from the Aldo Leopold Foundation at  It is not necessary to purchase the curriculum in order to bring 6th-8th graders to the PWLC, however. 



Duration:             1-1/2 hours (with option to hike further south – 2 hours) 

Essay:                    If I Were the Wind 

Description:        Students observe evidence of wind in different habitats.  They read the excerpt outside  

and estimate wind speed using the Beaufort scale.  They also measure wind speed and direction using a wind meter and compass.  While hiking and exploring, they make a wind map, labeling the windiest places and the least windy places at the PWLC, obstacles to wind, and wind pathways.  In reflection, students discuss ways wind helps and hinders wildlife.  Tying back to Leopold’s essay, students complete the statement in their journals, If I were the wind…  



Duration:             1-1/2 hours

Essay:                    65290

Description:        Students observe black-capped chickadees and other winter residents.  They sketch

chickadees, count visits to a feeder, search for banded ones, describe their

vocalizations, map windy and protected places and loud noises, and make a loud noise and record any response.  Students record the chickadees’ 3 commandments as described by Leopold.  PWLC staff also show students bird banding equipment and discuss chickadees’ adaptations for surviving winter weather.  In reflection, they write about what humans have in common with chickadees in winter and their own three commandments for surviving this extreme season.



Duration:             1-1/2 hours (with option to hike further south – 2 hours)

Essay:                    Bur Oak

Description:        Students read the excerpt in the Mallard Oaks.  They observe, sketch, and describe a bur

oak in their field journals.  Then they move to prairie habitat and read another Leopold except about a prairie forb where it is blooming and record similar data about that plant and ecosystem such as measurements, textures, scents, species, and thoughts on growth and survival.  In reflection students write about which plant they would rather be, a bur oak or a prairie forb, and why.


Contact the Center at or the Center's Office Assistant at 218-998-4481 for more information.

Last Updated: Nov 10, 2015
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