The Best Classrooms are Outside


As children, my brother and I spent long summer days playing in the creek behind our house. We lived in the suburbs of Washington, DC so it wasn’t a wild stream, but it felt wild to us. We would climb over our backyard fence and cross the open space to where the mowers stopped, entering the grasses and weeds that grew taller than our heads– the realm of frogs and ducks and the occasional fox. Over time, we wore a pathway through the shrubs to the small creek. There, we would move rocks around to create bigger waterfalls. We would send toy boats through the little rapids. We’d watch the water striders on the quiet stretches. The creek was a place where we could lose ourselves for hours.

Unfortunately, fewer and fewer kids get to have this experience. Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods asks whether children today are suffering from nature deficit disorder.

We need to reconnect children with the outdoors, and rivers are the perfect pathway. Besides giving kids opportunities to simply play outside, we can incorporate rivers into what, and how, we teach them in school. Rivers and creeks are dynamic classrooms where children can learn about a multitude of subjects from science and history to music, literature, and art – all while getting dirty and having fun.

Here are some field trip ideas to help connect children with rivers:

Visit a Wild and Scenic River
Rivers designated as Wild and Scenic are the best of the best – rivers with remarkable ecological, historic, cultural and recreational values. American Rivers was founded to protect Wild and Scenic Rivers, and it’s still a core part of our mission today. Find a Wild and Scenic River near you.

Host a river cleanup
Through our National River Cleanup program, American Rivers helps individuals organize cleanups for local rivers and streams. It’s a great way to get children involved in a community service project. Learn how to organize a river cleanup in your community.

Plant a rain garden
A rain garden uses water-tolerant plants to soak up stormwater runoff and filter out pollution. It’s a great way to help keep local streams clean. American Rivers is helping communities establish rain gardens in the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions. Learn how to create a rain garden at your home, school, or elsewhere in your community.

Additional resources
The Children and Nature Network provides resources for teachers and families to help get kids learning about and enjoying the outdoors.