Learning Outdoors

Resources from Environmental Education - 1/14/21

The SDW Environmental Education team will be sending weekly newsletters throughout the school year. Our hope is that some of the activities will support your classroom learning, inspire you to take your students outside, or spark a creative idea for you. If there are specific topics that you would like us to explore, please feel free to reach out with your ideas or suggestions! We can support you best when we know what you need!

Virtual Curriculum - 4K and 1st Grade

This winter we are offering virtual programming for 4K and 1st grade students. To learn more about each, check out the lesson plans and slideshows below. The programs are designed so that you can utilize some or all of the activities at your discretion.

Would you like an EE teacher to visit your classroom virtually - request a visit using this form!

1st grade lesson plan and overview presentation

4K lesson plan and overview presentation

Big picture

You Be The Chemist Challenge

The deadline to register for the You Be The Chemist Challenge® has been extended to Jan. 15!

What is the Challenge?

  • Team-based, free,STEM competition for students in grades 5-8

  • Includes a virtual academic competition and a video submission

Why should you register for the Challenge?

How do students participate in the Challenge?

  • Students participate in teams of 4 from the same school/organization

  • Students can participate from their own homes or from their classroom

  • All students participate in all levels of competition

Register your school before 1/15!

World Of Physics Competition

We invite you to submit a 2-minute video demonstrating a physics concept. Awards will be given for the best videos, and winners will be posted on our website and edited into a longer video to be shown on public television. We encourage submissions from our younger audience, but for legal reasons, anyone under the age of 18 must work under the supervision of a parent, guardian, or teacher who will submit the video on their behalf. This could be a fun educational project for families during this period of social distancing.

The deadline for submissions is June 30, 2021. You can find more information at https://wonders.physics.wisc.edu/contest/.

Moving in Nature

In this read-aloud video, join the character Jenny as she takes a winter walk in nature. Each page has a suggested movement that can be done along with the story.
Jenny's Winter Walk - A Kids Yoga Stories Audio Winter Yoga Book for Kids

Winter Gardening Activities

In their most recent newsletter the WI School Garden Network shared a handful of great resources for interactig with living plants, even in the winter! Here's what they shared:

"Whether teaching in person or through a screen, there are so many fun, engaging, and educational activities that can be done any time of year.

  • Plant seeds in a clear cup and watch as they germinate and grow. Have your students do the same in their homes or hold the cup up for them to observe every day.
  • Force winter blooms to brighten up your classroom and learn about what conditions entice flowers and leaves to emerge in the spring (see resource below!).
  • Show students the many cultivated varieties of Brassica oleracea, including broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi. Have students note similarities and differences or guess what part of the plant the vegetable represents.
  • Learn about what happens beneath the soil surface year round and revisit the concepts when the garden wakes up in spring."

Starting With Soil: An iPad app from the Center for Ecoliteracy and Whole Kids Foundation offers a playful, visually rich way to help kids understand that soil is a living system full of fascinating relationships.

Simple Straw Aeration Hydroponic System: Kids are always amazed to see plants growing without soil. This simple kid-powered system gives them a chance to experiment and explore hydroponic basics.

Winter Blooms: Many deciduous trees and shrubs form their flower buds the previous summer or fall and then enter a period of leafless winter dormancy. When the weather warms, sap begins to flow, buds swell, and leaves and flowers emerge. By providing the same late winter/early spring conditions indoors that entice flowers and leaves to emerge outdoors, young gardeners can force branches to reveal their spring finery.

Winter Activity Kits

The SDW EE team has created several winter activity kits that are free to reserve and use with your students. Simply fill out this reservation form and someone will be in touch with you regarding delivery. You can request kits through this form.

Grades K-3: Shelter Building Kits: collection of small natural materials such as sticks, bark, and rocks that can be used to create a shelter for a small toy figurine. Can be done inside or outside. Full instructions

Grades 2-12: Sosemanuk (Snow Snake): a team challenge based on a winter sport played by many eastern Canadian and Wisconsin indigenous peoples. The object of the game is to slide the "snake" (cross country ski, referred to as a meter stick in the instructions) further than your opponents. Full instructions

Grades 4-12: Team Challenge - Lake Michigan Waterline: This is a large group problem solving challenge. The goal is to move the “water” (jingle bell) through the “waterline” (various pieces of plastic pipe), without touching the water with the hands, fingers, or any other body parts. Full instructions

Winter Picture Books and Outdoor Activities

EE teacher Mrs. Raymond-Duvernell compiled a fantastic resource for the winter learning season! The PDF document pulls together 15 different winter-themed picture books and includes a corresponding outdoor activity idea for each book. A link to a read-aloud version of each book is also included. We can't wait to hear about the outdoor adventures you take with your students this winter!

EE Teacher Book Recommendation - Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Written by EE Teacher Mrs. Hughes

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

(Interest Level 3-7)

Trees aren't supposed to talk to people, as a rule, but what would they say when finally moved to speak up? "Red", an old red oak tree, has seen many people grow up and grow old, move in and move out and is painfully surprised when an unkind word is carved into its trunk soon after an immigrant family moves in. Red decides it's time to intervene and with the help of a tree full of animal friends, begin to heal the wounded neighborhood. Both funny and poignant, Wishtree will charm readers with laughs and lessons on family and friendship.

For information on reading levels visit https://www.booksource.com/Products/Wishtree__9781250043221.aspx

Birdfeeder Opportunity!

We have a new winter project! Would you like a birdfeeder for your classroom window? Check out the flyer to learn more and to register!

Already have a birdfeeder but having trouble attracting birds to visit? Try sprinkling some seed on the ground near the bird feeder so that they might have an easier time finding it. You can also check out these tips from the magazine Birds and Blooms.

The Phenology Phorum

Snow Bend

Written by EE teacher Laureanna Raymond-Duvernell

My girls love the heavy, wet snow as it is perfect for building forts and caves in our yard.

I love seeing it on the branches of trees, but I do sometimes worry that the trees will break under the weight of the snow.

Nature has evolved to counteract this, of course! Coniferous trees (evergreens like pines, firs and spruces) have extra bendy branches that provide a little more give for any extra snow weight. This also creates a little protected space beneath the tree for animals (or children!) to hide in. Deciduous trees are less bendy in the branches, but they don’t hold as much snow because they lose their leaves each fall.

The next time it snows, we can appreciate how beautiful the trees look, but also how the snow bend in the branches is the result of organisms adapting to their environment.

Notice this when you go outside, then check out the book Pine and the Winter Sparrow by Alexis York Lumbard to hear a Native American tale about how evergreen trees came to be.

Planetarium Corner

Each week, Lisa Swaney (the Planetarium Director) will share some fun opportunities here!


This week’s planetarium corner will focus on a few more astronomy activities to enhance your science classroom or give you additional activities to share with your students. Enjoy!

February 10 or March 4 | Live Q&A with Astronomy Experts (Grades 6-8)

  • After watching a recording of the Our Solar System and Beyond planetarium show at a time that fits your schedule, join as astronomy experts answer questions submitted in advance by students around the country.

February 17 or March 25 | Live Q&A with Astronomy Experts (Grades 3-5)

  • After watching a recording of the Motions of the Solar System planetarium show at a time that fits your schedule, join as astronomy experts answer questions submitted in advance by students around the country.

February 24 or March 18 | Science Storytime: Shine and Seek (Grades K-2)

  • We’ll read together Moonbear’s Shadow by Frank Asch to explore shadows, then use our own flashlights and toys to see if we can make some funny shadows ourselves at home!

Science @ Home: Our Sky

These astronomy-themed activities are designed to inspire stargazers-in-training ages 4-8. You can explore the sun, the moon, the stars, and the sky in general.

Live Virtual Planetarium Event: Gravity Rules!

Don't let gravity get you down! Join us as we take a fun look at this attractive but heavy topic. Is gravity a hero or a villain? What has gravity done for you? We'll try to explore these weighty questions and the current night sky in this virtual planetarium event. This event is FREE but registration is required.

When: Wednesday, January 20, 6:30 PM (CST)

Only 1 ticket is required per household. We will send you a Zoom link via email on the day of the event.


It may be getting colder but that doesn't mean that learning can't happen outdoors! We are still offering sit-upon kits for classrooms. These are cushioned, waterproof spots where students can take a seat during outdoor learning. If you are interested in requesting them for your classroom, email Emma Koeppel at ekoeppel@waukesha.k12.wi.us

Support for Outdoor Learning

We know that this year is asking for a lot of flexibility, patience, and perseverance! As you are being asked to take learning outdoors, the SDW EE team wants to support you!

To see detailed outdoor learning ideas, check out this slideshow.

To see a flyer that outlines our support offerings this year, check out this link.

Science Joke of the Week

Big picture