SDW Environmental Education

December 2018 Newsletter

This fall we worked with kindergarten students as they learned what it means to be a "Community Helper" and fourth grade students studying glaciers and erosion at Lapham Peak. We worked with fifth grade students as they explored and studied the marsh and river ecosystems in Waukesha. We travelled to Camp Whitcomb Mason with sixth grade students who participated in a variety of outdoor activities including archery, canoeing, and fire building. Finally, we welcomed many middle school classrooms who participated in a variety of learning experiences including team building, water testing, stream table modeling, and our new Hatchet Survival Challenge. It was a wonderfully busy and engaging fall season for everyone involved!

As we gear up for the winter season, we are looking forward to welcoming first grade students who will be learning about animal adaptations at E.B. Shurts. We will also spend time travelling to 4K classrooms across Waukesha to help students explore the concept of living vs. non-living. Finally, we are crossing our fingers for snow so that we can deliver on the promise of snow-shoeing for several middle school classrooms.

EE News: Wisconsin Children's Outdoor Heritage Resolution

The Wisconsin Children's Outdoor Heritage Resolution was passed in 2015 and 2016 by the Wisconsin legislature. In the resolution, legislators agreed that Wisconsin's rich natural beauty and resources should be accessible to all children. They also recognized that children who frequently spend time outdoors experience less mental, emotional, and physical stressors. While the resolution isn't a breaking news item, it is worth revisiting because it highlights the immense importance of the work that we are doing with the School District of Waukesha's Environmental Education Program. As our work grows to reach students more frequently and in new capacities, we hope to support the goals laid out in the Wisconsin Children's Outdoor Heritage Resolution.

In part, the resolution summarizes activities that legislators believed should be available and accessible to all children in Wisconsin. These activities include:

  • discover Wisconsin’s diverse wilderness: prairies, forests, wetlands, and beaches
  • breathe clean air and drink clean water
  • splash, play, swim, and boat in safe, clean lakes and rivers
  • visit a farm, historical site, or orchard
  • share a hunting or fishing experience with a family member, friend, or mentor
  • follow a trail ride it or walk it
  • play, snowshoe, ski, snowboard, or sled in the snow
  • camp out under the stars
  • picnic and eat meals made from local products and ingredients
  • play in the dirt, plant a tree, and grow a garden
  • explore and connect with Wisconsin’s natural spaces and wild places; and, be it further

To read the full resolution, visit

Who am I?

Being the winter season, most insects, birds, reptiles, and amphibians are laying low. So this month's "Who Am I?" challenge is testing your tree bark identification skills. Can you name this tree based only on a picture of the bark? Scroll to the bottom to find the answer.
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Special Thank You

This fall we received several donations from local businesses to help support our Hatchet Survival Challenge. Thanks to these businesses, over 300 middle school students were able to receive an awesome prize if they worked together with their team to complete the challenge. The prize was fitting, too. What would be the first thing you would want if you were rescued from a long stint in the wilderness? FOOD!

Thank you very much to everyone who supported our program!

Culver's on W Sunset Dr., Waukesha

Culver's on E Main St., Waukesha

Culver's on N Grandview Blvd., Waukesha

McDonald's WI Corporate Office

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Meet an EE Teacher: Katie Wilkie

How long have you been working in the program?

I've been with the program since 2001.

What is your favorite grade level to teach?

My favorite grade level is early childhood and my favorite grade to teach is third. I love working in the river with both parent volunteers and the students. They get such a thrill examining the aquatic life that comes out of our Fox River! But it's hard to pick a favorite grade to teach.

What is your favorite thing about working with the EE program?

What I love about being an Environmental Ed teacher is the variety. One day I'm in the river and the next I might be at Lapham Peak or at Camp Whitcomb. Helping students understand that we all have a role in protecting our environment is what it's all about.

If you could live in any ecosystem on the earth, which would you choose and why?

My favorite ecosystem would have to be freshwater or marine. I love being around water. I have a cabin in northern Wisconsin on a lake called North Twin Placid and I spend most of my summer up there. My favorite thing is paddle boarding early in the morning. We are also in the middle of a forest ecosystem up there, surrounded by pine forests and birch trees and in the winter it's a frozen tundra! So I have a little bit if everything there except rain forest! I spend time in Florida every winter so that's where I get my marine and tropical ecosystems! I grew up in Wisconsin and went to Whittier, Horning, Central Campus (now Les Paul) and South and finally UW-Madison. I've lived in Washington DC and the US Virgin Islands. But eventually, because I love the four seasons, I moved back to Wisconsin, the place I've always called home.

Tips for a Greener Community

During the holiday season, challenge yourself to reuse or recycle materials in your home by turning them into crafts, decorations, or gifts. Make snowmen decorations from old socks, angel ornaments from old sheet music, or a memory wreath from trinkets laying around the house. Many more ideas can be found in this article.

Words for Winter

Winter Trees

By William Carlos Williams

All the complicated details

of the attiring and

the disattiring are completed!

A liquid moon

moves gently among

the long branches.

Thus having prepared their buds

against a sure winter

the wise trees

stand sleeping in the cold.

Wisconsin Nature Note: Birds

Birds are prevalent in Wisconsin during all seasons. Wisconsin is home to over 300 species of birds. The cold winter months are a great time to get to know the birds in your neighborhood.

If you are interested in learning to recognize the birds that live in your backyard, there are several ways to get started. Project Feeder Watch is a citizen science project through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This project spans the winter months and simply asks you to install a bird feeder, watch and identify the birds at your feeder, and then submit your observations through an online form. Not sure how to start identifying the birds in your backyard? Start with the Cornell Lab's online interactive bird ID tool, a bird ID book, or the Merlin Bird ID app.

Another opportunity to watch and count birds in the winter comes through participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual event held every February. Similar to Project Feeder Watch, this event asks participants to spend 15 minutes during the event watching and recording the bird species that visit their feeder. Last year, nearly 200,000 people participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count. The next event will be held February 15-18, 2019.

For tips on installing and maintaining a bird feeder, check out this article from the WI DNR.

Want to get kids involved in watching the birds at your feeder? Check out some ideas from the WI Green Schools Network here.

Who's Got the Answers?

This month we're wondering if every snowflake really is one-of-a-kind? This video from PBS will help us answer that question.

Who Am I Answer....

A Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) tree. This tree is native to North America and is known for it's "cork-like bark with wart-like protuberances" (Wikipedia). The tree produces berries in the fall that are edible to humans. More info about the tree can be found here.

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Looking for more info about SDW EE?

Feel free to reach out with questions, comments, or news by e-mailing or follow us on Twitter @SdwEnvEd!

Check out our website at
This holiday season, consider making crafts, decorations, or gifts from recycled materials instead of buying something new! Snowman decorations from old socks, angel ornaments from old sheet music, or a memory wreath from old toys and trinkets are just a few ideas of ways that you can reuse and recycle around the holidays. More ideas can be found in this article.