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Exploring Nature

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Grades: K-3
Group Capacity: 90 students
Time: At least 2 hours per 50 students
Cost: $15 per student

 Introduction | Content Standards | Program Activities |
Preparing | Training Workshops | Scheduling | Costs |

> Introduction

Exploring Nature provides age appropriate
environmental education experiences for
early elementary students to facilitate direct learning.

Do you remember your earliest nature experience? Exploring Nature's Classroom Through Outdoor Learning (Exploring Nature) was developed to create a positive nature experience for lower elementary school students. This program uses age appropriate hands-on activities, costumes, and colorful visual aids to involve and inspire younger students and help them to appreciate and respect the natural world. The educational materials and activities complement the natural environment. They will focus on water and land animals, plants, soil, and water in different ecosystems, and using your sense in nature. After participating in the activities and learning basic ecological concepts, students can see these concepts "in action" at SERC. This program facilitates direct learning about the environment for students.

> Brochure (Printable PDF)


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 > Content Standards

Maryland Content Standards
1.0 Skills & Processes: 1.3.1, 1.3.2, 1.3.4, 1.3.5, 1.3.6,
1.3.15, 1.3.16
3.0 Life Science: 3.3.1, 3.3.2, 3.3.6, 3.3.8, 3.3.9, 3.3.12,
4.0 Chemistry: 4.3.1, 4.3.5
6.0 Environmental Science: 6.3.2, 6.3.4, 6.3.5

Virginia Standards of Learning
Scientific Investigation: K.1, K.2, 1.1, 2.1, 3.1
Life Processes: K.6, 1.4, 1.5, 2.4, 3.4
Living Systems: 2.5, 3.5, 3.6
Earth Patterns: K.8, 1.8, 2.
Resources: K.10 


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> Program Activities

Activity Format Key

The Activity Format Key page provides a breakdown of how the activities run. Each activity is described in the same way and lists all you need to know to run the activity successfully. The teacher and parent leaders should review the "Aims and Goals," "Information," and "Words to Know" sections before the trip. These sections also provide useful facts and vocabulary words to help students build background knowledge of the ideas and activities completed at SERC. The "Tools," How," and "Wrap Up" sections give descriptions of how to lead the activity for a successful and educational trip to SERC.

Program Activities

The program activities are divided into three categories. Click a category to see a brief description of the activities that fall under that category.

>> Select 5-8 that you are interested in, and contact
Karen McDonald
to receive more specific info.


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> Preparing

Exploring Nature’s Classroom is a teacher/parent-led environmental education program. To create the best results for students, it is important that everyone involved (parents, teachers, and students) prepare for the field trip. Before you arrive, teachers will:

  1. Select activities.
  2. Attend a teacher workshop to familiarize yourself with our activities and site set-up. Only first time teachers need to attend. Bring your station leaders if possible.
  3. Prepare students by reviewing Words to Know, Information and Before and After sections of each activity. Distribute the “No Garbage Lunch” fliers.
  4. Recruit parents and other aides and prepare them for their role during the field trip.
  5. Gather and bring materials that are needed for the Exploring Nature’s Classroom activities. Each activity lists what the group should bring.

Choosing The Activities

The program coordinator will help design your visit to fit your time-frame and number of students. Typically, teachers choose four or more activities.

When You Are At SERC

Education staff and docents will greet you at the bus and give an introduction to the students about the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and the activities of the day. While the teacher has selected the activities and is responsible for the day running smoothly, our education docents will prepare the materials and help with certain activities.

We expect the teacher to lead the opening and closing circle. Tell students they must do two things while at SERC, “learn something new and have fun!” In closing circle, ask students what new things they learned. Did they have fun? Which activities were their favorites?

Guidelines for Teachers

During the trip, you will “float” between activities; attend to first aid needs, and behavior issues. As the official timekeeper, you will announce the beginning and end of break, lunch and individual activities. You will also conduct opening and closing circles with the entire class. Please report any broken or missing materials to docents.

Guidelines for Station Leaders (Parent-Leaders)

Station leaders are the “teachers” for the day. They are invited to attend a teacher workshop. They are responsible for leading one to three activities, depending on the number of station leaders and activities selected. Please read and be familiar with the activities beforehand so you can assign chaperons specific tasks to conduct at the stations. You can also give them any information needed to supervise stations, keep time for stations within the activities, return materials to the proper bin, and report behavior issues, accidents, and broken or missing materials to the teacher.

The “How” and “Wrap Up” sections of each activity offer discussion questions to help you begin and end activities. As teachers, your attitudes about the activities have a powerful influence on students. Studies show that students remember attitudes and feelings better than facts and figures. Your enthusiasm will spread, so have fun!

Guidelines for Parent-Chaperones

You are “teacher’s aides” for the day. You are responsible for supervising students when activities break into smaller groups or stations, following directions from station leaders, and reporting all behavior issues, accidents and broken, or missing materials to station leaders. You may read the activities and attend a teacher workshop, but neither is required. The parent-leader should tell you any information needed to supervise a station when you break into smaller groups.

As teacher’s aides, your attitudes about the activities have a powerful influence on students. Studies show that students remember attitudes and feelings better than facts and figures. So have fun! Students will “catch” your enthusiasm.


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> Training Workshops

New teachers and parents are invited to attend a training workshop at the Reed Education Center at SERC. Teachers should attend training workshops to go over logistics. Teachers and parents should attend training workshops to become more familiar with the chosen activities for the field trip. Please contact Karen McDonald at

There is no charge for this workshop, but participants must pre-register by contacting Karen McDonald
All workshops are held at the
Reed Education Center on SERC's campus, located at:

647 Contees Wharf Road, Edgewater, MD 21037.

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> Scheduling

If you are interested in visiting SERC to participate in Exploring Nature's Classroom Through Outdoor Learning, please contact Karen Mcdonald at SERC's Education Department by email at

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> Cost

 The cost for Exploring Nature's Classroom field trips in 2014 - 2015 is $15 per student. Please pay when you arrive. There is no charge for teachers and station leaders. The Teachers' Corner has information on available grants that might help cover part of your field trip expenses. 

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