Planning a nature center visit
- Generally a nature center is a place where young people and adults can share a firsthand experience with nature.
- The term may indicate a preserve, wildlife refuge, park, interpretive center, zoo, botanic garden, museum, aquarium, environmental education center, or nature trail to name a few examples.
- Nature centers are found all over the world and allow visitors to experience every type of ecosystem on Earth.
- Promote awareness and knowledge of local ecosystems,
- Provide information regarding global and local environmental issues, and
- Foster stewardship of the environment.
Through nature centers, educators have an opportunity to
- Get students outside to explore their surroundings,
- Utilize programs designed for school groups with standards-based, hands-on activities led by trained naturalists, and
- Spark a lifelong interest in conservation and protection of our natural resources in their students.
When planning to visit a nature center, be sure to do your homework. Contact nature center staff to
- Schedule your visit,
- Learn about the programming options, and
- Ask about facilities, what to expect to do and see, and what to bring.
Prepare your students for the visit by
- Initiating a discussion on the issues they will explore,
- Having them conduct research on the plants and animals they might see,
- Giving a pre-quiz to uncover prior knowledge on the subject, or
- Having a discussion about what to bring (water, lunch, or journals) and how to dress (wear clothing that can get dirty and will provide protection from the sun or inclement weather).
Also, be sure to inform parents of the important details of your trip, as well as the value of a nature center visit.
Student activities at the nature center will depend greatly on the facility you are visiting. Nature center staff can help you plan how to get the most out of your visit, but here are some suggestions.
- Engage students in nature journaling, which involves students recording their observations in prose, sketches, and graphic organizers.
- Design a scavenger hunt for your students in which they search for objects and organisms around the nature center facilities or grounds. Be sure to remind your students not to remove or touch any living or non-living item without instruction from the nature center staff! Instead, give each student team a disposable camera and have them take pictures of the items on their list.
- Geocache and incorporate mapping skills into your nature center visit. Geocaching involves an outdoor "treasure hunt" using a global positioning system (GPS) receiver.
- After investigating the issues, organize a cleanup or other service-learning project to get your students involved with stewardship and conservation at the "take action" level.
- Incorporate other nature center activities that encourage students to observe their surroundings, classify organisms, develop data collection skills, and get outside to enjoy learning in nature.
Be sure to follow up with your students after your trip to the nature center. Some ideas for closing activities include:
- Group or individual student presentations of what was discovered at the nature center,
- Creation of informational posters, brochures, or booklets to inform others about an environmental issue explored at the nature center, or
- Individual journaling followed by a group discussion about what students learned and how the trip may change their attitudes and behaviors regarding a particular environmental challenge that was observed. If students feel action is required, encourage and support them in their plans to educate the community.
Follow up with parents, as well. Send them an e-mail or newsletter with photos and stories from the trip, and provide them with ideas for encouraging outdoor play and learning at home.