How Parks Make Classroom Lessons Come Alive

Emily KaminField Notes
Two students examining reconstructed fossils at Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park - Dawn Kish

Fall marks the start of the school year, when students slip on their backpacks once again and head off to their new classrooms. As these students become immersed in their coursework, many will get to see what they learn come to life while on a field trip. The National Park Foundation (NPF) is proud to help nearly 200,000 students embark on field trips each year, via our Open Outdoors for Kids program. Our field trip grants provide funding for transportation, entry, and programming, primarily for fourth grade students, to national parks and public lands.

Field trips illuminate the real-world applications of what they learn in the classroom. Students are energized when they can see, touch, and explore various subject matters and use their imagination to visualize concepts that they had previously only seen on the chalkboard or in a textbook. It helps them to understand abstract lessons, while also sparking their curiosity to learn more.

In the 2018-2019 school year, the NPF awarded $2 million in field trip grants, giving over 188,000 students from 2,094 schools the opportunity to experience their classroom curriculum first-hand at nearby national parks. For many students, these field trips are their first time visiting a national park – even when that park was in their own backyard. Join us in taking a look at just some of the adventure Open OutDoors for Kids made possible!

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve

A group of students orienteering at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve

A group of students at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve

Teaching Responsible Earth Education

Students spent three days at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, where they used a hand-drawn map to follow air, water, and soil molecules on their adventures through the forest. They imagined they were a plant or an animal native to the park and discovered how every living thing is dependent on air, water, soil, and energy sources. Students navigated to their destination, where they sat in stillness and silence, taking in their surroundings.

Gateway Arch National Park

A park ranger and student birdwatching at Gateway National Recreation Area

A park ranger and student birdwatching at Gateway National Recreation Area

Donna Harlon, Volunteer Photographer - Gateway National Recreation Area New Jersey Unit

At Gateway Arch National Park, students explored Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary and used binoculars to spot birds native to the park, like Trumpeter Swans, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and more. They learned how the sanctuary provides food, water, air, space, and shelter for these birds and why it is such an important stop on their migration paths. Aside from bird watching, the day included activities like canoeing, archery, mammal tracking, and geocaching. Students learned about dams and other man-made structures that provide these opportunities for recreation, while also keeping them safe from flooding from the Mississippi River watershed.

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

Students at Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

Students at Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

Dawn Kish

Students traveled along the Mississippi River – seeing its depth and beauty first-hand – while learning the river’s ecosystem and its inhabitants, including mussels and fish. They did an eco-scavenger hunt and learned important lessons in water conservation. One student reflected on the day, saying that “the Big River is in us. And we are part of that river, regardless of us being humans and the river being water. So we need to take care of it.”

Students at Natchez Trace Parkway

Students at Natchez Trace Parkway

NPS Photo

Whether it’s taking the train to a nearby monument, traveling by tram through the Everglades wetlands, or viewing the prairie from a covered wagon, Open Outdoors for Kids field trips enable students to explore the natural, cultural, and historical heritage of their local national parks and establish an emotional connection to them. These experiences help students delve deeper into their classroom curricula while learning to appreciate nature and the outdoors. Seeing National Park Service staff at work also exposes them to future careers in environmental science and public land management.

We are proud to continue supporting student exploration of national parks in new and exciting ways, including virtual field trips through Open OutDoors for Kids Hybrid Learning, an extension of NPF’s Field Trip Grant program. The Hybrid Learning program will pilot new distance learning techniques to connect students, teachers, and families to the local natural, cultural, and historical resources found in our national parks. Help a student find their park by donating to the National Park Foundation today.

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