Outdoor School Lessons

Lesson Overview

Our three part program has many options for scheduling, activity choice and areas of focus.  This enables us to custom fit a program specifically for each school.  Our programs are kid-centered, paced at a rate that enables students to build relationships with classmates, and spend quality time exploring the natural ecology of the area. 


Our goal is to provide lessons and activities that fit into your existing curriculum, which will hopefully make your visit to College Settlement an integral part of your school program.  We offer activities that will complement and bring alive the themes and concepts your students have learned in the classroom.   Our teacher naturalists bring them to life as students apply that knowledge out in the meadows, forests, organic farmlands and wetlands. 

During their time spent outside on our lessons, we encourage students to develop an awareness of the natural environment, allowing them to explore our beautiful wetlands, forests and streams.  By leading students through fun student-centered explorations, students are able to develop a positive environmental ethic to guide their future behaviors

Each season we hire an experienced and diverse teaching staff, each with their own unique expertise in teaching different topics.  The specific information covered in each lesson does vary each season depending on the Teacher Naturalist leading the activities, much in the same way classroom teacher styles differ back at school.  

Each of our lessons takes approximately 1 hour. 

The following overview of our most popular lessons will help guide your choice of activities.

State Standards/District Curriculum

Most participating school groups ask Outdoor School staff to choose the most appropriate lessons for the season and weather. We usually do not require school staff to lead instructional groups unless the group exceeds 5 groups of 15 students or more.  At that point, we request that school staff assist in leading lessons. Our lesson kits are easy to use, and the lesson will be explained to school staff once the group is on site. The Outdoor School Experience can encompass almost any ecology/environmental science topics required by school districts for grade school students.


In order to assist schools in meeting state/district requirements for science and ecology standards, we can match our learning outcomes with those of the school’s curriculum. 

The Outdoor School program is designed to provide students the opportunity to learn as part of small, focused lesson groups.   Many more lessons can be found in our Outdoor School Activities Manual which is available upon request. 

 The following is a list and brief description of our most requested lesson activities.  


Our camp sits at the headwaters of the Pennypack Creek.  Students will be looking at wetlands, creeks, or our storm water retention wetland and our 4 acre pond to study various wetland ecology topics.

Students may attempt to gauge the cleanliness of our 

creek by looking for indicator species (typically in the form of macro-invertebrates) and identifying their tolerance level via a biotic index.  Students will also learn the ways human actions can impact waterways by looking at erosion, invasive species and pollution. Some of the areas our staff may focus on include:

  • A water quality assessment macroinvertebrate survey to determine the overall water quality of a water ecosystem using a BIOTIC INDEX 
  • Low impact collection techniques used to collect macroinvertebrates
  • Use of field guides to identify various types of macroinvertebrates found in water ecosystems. 
  • Human impact on our watersheds
  • The characteristics and hydrologic functions of a wetland
  • The importance of a wetland and watershed as part of  the water cycle 
  • Definition of a watershed as the area of land through which any water moves, or drains to reach a stream.


The wilderness survival lesson is extremely popular regardless of the season.  This introductory activity teaches students important outdoor skills such as what to do if lost in the forest,  basic fire and shelter building, tracking and wild edible identification.  


Our camp has great examples of the various soil types common here in Pennsylvania – from exposed clay beds and Stockton Formation Triassic sandstone to wetland soils and organically farmed agricultural fields.  Students will investigate different types of soils and discuss how they may have been formed. Students will learn about the basic components of soil, the properties of soil necessary for plant growth and the cycle of plant decomposition and growth in relation to soil production.   Students will also use Hubbard soil sieves to determine basic soil types and collect a variety of soil samples with an auger to compare the physical properties of different soil types. 

Some of the areas our staff may focus on include:

  • The properties and components of soil
  • The basic soil cycle necessary for plant growth –  plant decomposition and growth in relation to soil production
  • Screening methods used to determine basic soil types
  • Use of student observations to make decisions on soil quality
  • Soil erosion and human impact on our landscape


We have a small collection of domestic animals down at our Environmental Center and use them to teach a wide variety of lessons. Students can meet, hold and learn more about our animals with our Animal Introductions lesson.  By the end of the activity students should be able to explain the characteristics of different classes of animals, as well as the various physical adaptations of our animals. We have many barn animals such as donkeys, goats, chickens and sometimes turkeys and ducks.  We also have a collection of indoor animals such as turtles, corn snakes, some cool insects, guinea pigs and frogs. Many of our animals were unwanted pets, and now are one of our most popular parts of the program. Some of the areas our staff may focus on include:

  • Make observations on the design and function of our animals’ adaptations and recognize how they enable each to inhabit a niche 
  • The basic care needed to maintain a pet
  • Historical uses for farm animals
  • Basic taxonomy
  • The difference between nocturnal, diurnal and crepuscular animals
  • Correct animal handling techniques


College Settlement is land host to Pennypack Farm and Education Center, a 24 acre fully functioning organic farm., a non-profit community supported agriculture demonstration project.  This enables us to offer an incredibly valuable and unique variety of lessons based on sustainable agricultural topics. Students will tour the farm fields and various buildings and will be able to taste some of the fruits and vegetables grown on the farm. 

Our teaching staff take students to the farm for an in depth, hands on look at sustainable farming methods.  Students learn about Integrated Pest Management, farming practices that foster sustainable water and soil use and also get to hear how food gets from field to plate.  This is one of our most popular lessons. 

Some of the areas our staff may focus on include:

  • The nature/food connection & where food comes from 
  • How to farm/grow food organically & sustainably – soil and water retention practices
  • How to improve family health through cooking & eating well 
  • The importance of local farming & local food
  • Integrated pest management
  • The importance of heritage breeds and biodiversity in our food plants
  • The importance of the animals in food production – birds, bees, and bugs 



Students who participate in our interpretive hike will learn a wide variety of things about the natural world.  This is definitely a “teachable moment” lesson based around student discoveries. With so many great ecology topics available, our Teacher Naturalists can offer a wide variety of natural history subjects.  Many schools request we offer our “Nature Hike” which will vary depending on the specific expertise of the Teacher Naturalist and season. Hikes focus on the most fascinating things going on in our forests, streams and meadows at that specific point in the year. 

Some of the areas our staff may focus on:  

  • Birds
  • Forest Ecology/succession
  • Trees
  • Funky Funghi
  • Seeds 
  • Animal migration and hibernation 
  • local animal populations/adaptations
  • native versus invasive plants


We have wildflower meadows, mature and emerging forests and riparian areas that host a wide variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates.  Students will begin by learning the various signs of animal activity (scat, tracks, trampled grass etc.) and then head out into the woods to look for such signs.  Students will then be asked to find signs of animal activity. During this lesson, students will observe and collect various clues showing animals have been present  while learning the importance of these smaller residents of our ecosystem.

Some of the areas our staff may focus on include:

  • The main differences between different types of invertebrates such as spiders, insects and worms.
  • Demonstrate correct collection techniques for invertebrates
  • Looks for feeding and nesting sites
  • Scat ID!
  • Explain the important role of different animals in the ecosystem 
  • Make observations on the design and function of animal adaptations and recognize how they allow the organism to survive in all seasons
  • Use data collected to identify species


Students will learn the five stages of succession, the habitat types and inhabitants of each stage of succession, common species indicative of each stage of succession and the concept of constant change, growth and decline to the life cycle of a forest.


The following lessons are also always popular!

  • Insects and Spiders
  • Animal Senses
  • Micro Trails
  • Batty Activities
  • Traditional Multicultural Games
  • Archaeology

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive.” – Anais Nin