Research has shown that taking the classroom outdoors for a hands-on, experiential approach to environmental education not only improves science scores, but can help improve cooperation and conflict resolution skills in school-age children, according to the American Institutes for Research. Among the many options for teachers and parents in the Philadelphia area to incorporate outdoor education into their lesson plans, here are a few standouts.
The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education strives to inspire “meaningful connections between people and nature.” Using forests and fields as a living laboratory, the center fosters environmental understanding, stewardship and appreciation. Programs are designed for a variety of ages and abilities, from preschool to adults, and include programs targeted to students, teachers, families and adults, as well as scouting, day camp, after-school, preschool and community gardening programs. With over 340 acres and three miles of hiking trails to explore, this facility also includes a Discover Center with interactive exhibits, a Green Roof program and meeting rooms. Outdoor facilities include an amphitheater, a working solar panel exhibit, a picnic grove, organic community gardens and a wildlife rehabilitation clinic.
Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, Inc is an organization dedicated to enhancing the health of the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Creek and watershed in north, northeast and northwestern Philadelphia as well as surrounding communities including Abington, Jenkintown, Cheltenham, Springfield and Rockledge. Restoration projects, designed to cover a 15-year span, serve as outdoor, watershed classrooms, providing ongoing opportunities for environmental education to area students, schools, residents and organizations. TTF partners with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation as well as the Philadelphia Water Department to provide programs that local schools are able to incorporate into their curriculums and extracurricular activities, including educational workshops, community cleanups, rainwater collection and management, constructing riparian buffers and cultivating rain gardens.
The Pennypack Environmental Center is located on Veree Road along the Pennypack Creek in Northeast Philadelphia. Originally dedicated as a bird sanctuary, the park and environmental center provide the ideal outdoor classroom for studying birds and other wildlife, and includes interactive exhibits, an outdoor amphitheater, a reference library and specially designed school-group and day camp environmental education programs.
The Wissahickon Environmental Center is located in northwest Philadelphia. This park offers students and families the opportunity to discover and learn about the natural world around them as they explore the trails, large native-fish aquarium and the life-like mural of local wildlife that covers an entire wall from floor to ceiling. Educators can use this outdoor classroom to provide hands-on learning about the history of the area, the vegetation, insects, birds, reptiles, fish, amphibians and other aquatic wildlife, as well as teach lessons about how the physical and biological conditions of local waterways impacts the environment as a whole, and what residents – including children – can do to contribute to conservation efforts.
The Cobbs Creek Environmental Center, located in southwest and west Philadelphia, provides an outdoor experiential learning environment for the city’s schools with hands-on activities, educator training programs and research projects with the goal of establishing programs that provide pathways to green-collar jobs and green careers.
The Outdoor School In Horsham offers school-age children the opportunity to experience nature in a group setting – as a class, led by their teachers – in a three-day/two-night residential environmental education program. Learning is guided by the combined efforts of the teachers accompanying the school group and teacher naturalists on staff at the camp. Programs are specially tailored to each group, with over a hundred activities and lessons that can be incorporated into the learning experience.
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Christy Ayala covers sports, recreation, the outdoors, and leisure activities in the Philadelphia area. She earned a masters degree in recreation administration from George Williams College and managed programs in the Midwest, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.