An adult leads several preschool children in bird watching

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

We invite you to participate in educational lessons for schools at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center with a minimum of 10 children and a maximum of 30 children in attendance per class:  

  • Half-Day Visits -- one lesson in the morning or in the afternoon

  1. Preschool through 5th grade -- Seasonal Field Investigations.  Lesson time is 1 hour for preschool and kindergarten; 1-1/2 hours for 1st through 5th grades.  These lessons are aligned with Minnesota Academic Standards in science and language arts.  Please scroll down for listings by grade level and season.
  2. 6th-8th grade -- Seasonal Field Studies.  Lesson time is 1-1/2 to 2 hours long.  Please scroll down to the bottom of this page for more information.  
  3. 9th-12th grade -- Prairie or Wetland Ecosystem Bio Blitz in any season.  Please scroll down to the bottom of this page for more information.
  4. Home school families  -- Nature Journaling.  Very adaptable for a variety of ages and any season.  Please scroll down past the seasonal curriculum for more information.  
  • Full Day Visits -- two lessons, one in the morning and one in the afternoon with lunch in between

  1. Preschool through 8th grade classes -- add our Nature Journaling lesson to your 1/2 day visit to create a full day experience.
  2. 9th-12th grade classes -- Prairie and Wetland Ecosystem Bio Blitz -- explore both prairie and wetland ecosystems for a full day visit.  Or add our Nature Journaling lesson.  
  3. Home schools -- participate in a second Nature Journaling field activity to create a full day visit.
  • Multi-day and overnight visits for 5th graders and older

Residential visits for school groups are currently not available. 

Self-Guided Visits

We continue to experience reduced staffing levels in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service nationally and locally. In order to sustain quality services to our core education partnership with remaining staff capacity, we must regretfully reduce the quantity of services traditionally provided to all classes visiting for field trips.

For the 2023-2024 school year, you are welcome to visit with your students for self-guided experiences.  We continue to provide relevant curriculum (see below), safe and clean indoor and outdoor spaces, as well as materials and equipment to use on your own.  Unfortunately, we cannot provide staff to teach lessons and lead classes. 

Scheduling Your Class

To lead your class when visiting the PWLC in the 2023-2024 school year, we ask that you call our office to reserve your date(s) at 218-998-4480 now through August 31, 2023.  We are scheduling over the phone instead of on-line.  Please have the following information on-hand so we can complete your booking in one phone call (no tentative bookings, no holds):

  • Names, phone numbers, and email addresses for scheduling contact and visiting teachers
  • Whether or not you would like use PWLC materials and equipment or bring your own
  • Preferred dates -- Mondays through Fridays are available if you are using your own equipment and materials.  To borrow ours, please plan to visit on a Thursday or Friday.
  • Arrival time at the PWLC from home and departure time from the PWLC to return home, building your schedule from the time blocks listed below
    • grade level and corresponding lesson timeframes (preschool and kindergarten lessons are 1 hour long; all others are 1-1/2 hours long)
    • number of bathroom breaks (15 minutes each) or none
    • lunch break (30 minutes) or none
    • exhibit and store time (15 minutes each) or none
  • Expected number of children and adults
  • Nature Journaling field activity choice for full day visits -- see our Nature Journaling lesson plan for a list of options on page 4.

Our calendar will close to bookings for the 2023-2024 school year on September 1, 2023.  We are open to re-evaluating the services we can offer should our future staffing circumstances change.  In the meantime, if you have questions, please email or call the PWLC at 218-998-4480.  Thank you!

Half-Day Visits for Preschool - 5th Grades:  Seasonal Field Investigations

The PWLC offers nature education lessons specifically designed preschool through 5th grades and which help support Minnesota Academic Standards in Science and Language Arts.  We strongly encourage classes to participate in each field investigation in the grade level series developed for fall, winter, and spring.  Students gain a better understanding of the Prairie Pothole Region when they experience the seasonal changes and framework 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 lesson after completing the seasonal field investigation for their grade level.)  Many of our lesson plans are organized using the KWHL format.  

Listed by GRADE LEVEL 

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

Click on the title of the lesson to access the full lesson plan.  

Season:            Fall

Title:                Prairie Wetlands Explorers   

Description:       Students walk and look for three special places on a simple map (prairie, wetlands, and oak savanna).  When they find these places, 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 and habitat stickers.  

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 a game called 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 

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 or notebooks. 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 after completing a morning lesson at the PWLC. When booking your date, select a field activity from a complete list in the lesson plan on page 4.  

Some Field Activity Options 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.

Preschool through 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

All 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

All 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 

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 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.  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. 

9th - 12th Grade Prairie and/or Wetland Ecosystem Bioblitz

Duration:  Half day (one ecosystem) or full day visit (two ecosystems).  Lesson time is 1-1/2 hours per ecosystem.

Description:  Explore prairie and/or wetland ecosystems to search for, identify, and record as many species of plants and animals as possible, providing a snap shot of biodiversity for the place and time.  Compare and contrast results between ecosystems for full day visits.  Return in other seasons to repeat and compare/contrast between seasons and witness phenological changes over time.  

Preparing for Your Visits

The following information will help you, your students, and your chaperons have safe and memorable visits.  We strongly recommend that you read and share them with everyone coming with you to the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center each time you plan your trip.

Contact us via email or call 218-998-4480 for more information.

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