As our urban communities develop and expand, it is vital to preserve green space—for water quality, for wildlife, for commerce, and for the wellbeing of our friends, families, and neighbors. 

Nature-based education can be instrumental in cultivating communities that value conservation and best management of our natural resources.  In honor of National Environmental Education Week, the Illinois River Watershed Partnership is getting students outside and immersed in nature to encourage the development of inquisitive learners and thinkers—the newest stewards of our watershed. 


StudentsPlantingWM Students from Walnut Farm Montessori (Bentonville) and ANH Montessori (Rogers) planted native grass seeds during their field trip to the Watershed Sanctuary in early April


Located centrally within the northwestern Arkansas metropolitan area, the Illinois River Watershed Sanctuary is a highly accessible venue for field-based learning experiences.  This 32-acre watershed preserve comprises a cave inhabited by two endangered and threatened species, an underground spring that forms a stream, wetland, and lake, an urban forest with 27 tree species, and nature trails with watchable wildlife and diverse plant life—a true microcosm of the entire Illinois River Watershed.


Ozark TrilliumThe rare Ozark Trillium has made its spring debut in the shaded upland forest at the Watershed Sanctuary

Photo by IRWP volunteer, Cheria Simpson


Last week, about 70 students from Walnut Farm Montessori and ANH Montessori visited the Watershed Sanctuary for a daylong field trip.  These kids were so enthused by the surrounding plants and animals coming to life with the arrival of springtime.  Colorful redbud trees dotted the forest’s edge.  The crystal clear spring cascaded quickly from the cave, and the subsequent stream swelled from recent rains.  Countless wildflowers, including the rare Ozark Trillium, burst from the soil near the upland nature trails.

A nesting Great Horned Owl scowled down at us from her treetop haven, keeping a watchful eye out for daytime predators despite her nocturnal nature.  We even spotted one of the migratory gray bats at the mouth of the cave—a sure sign of spring.


Nesting OwlThis photo by IRWP volunteer Dell Tyson shows the nesting Great Horned Owl that has made its home this spring at the Watershed Sanctuary


Nature-based education provides highly engaging, memorable learning experiences by inviting students to use senses that they don’t normally use in the classroom.  Listening to birdsongs, smelling the sweet scent of flowers and grasses, feeling the texture of a tree’s bark or the cold, drafty air near a cave—these are the supplementary experiences that make a child’s classroom education relevant.  As the skeletal, leafless limbs of dormant deciduous trees awake in color this spring, so, too, does the child’s curiosity.

Springtime invites us as educators to use our students’ genuine curiosity to develop critical thinkers and lifelong learners—the ones who will carry the torch and be leaders in our communities in the future.


Kids by the GreenhouseTomorrow’s watershed stewards got a head start today


Contact us to arrange for a nature-based learning opportunity for your classroom!

Related Links:

Outdoor learning: Education’s next revolution?

National Wildlife Federation- Back to School: Back Outside

The Effects of Environment-Based Education on Students’ Achievement Motivation


Related Posts:

Fueling a Passion for the Outdoors

Growing Conservation!

Nature’s Classroom: The Water Cycle

The Lesson is in the Music