Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Wetland Wanderer: Engaging Youth in Wetlands through Learning, Action and Ownership

by Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst, ASWM

Over the winter holiday, I got to spend a number of precious days with my elementary school-aged children.  We went snowshoeing through the woods and even explored some icy wetlands.  I always like to support their learning, so when one of my children’s teacher asked me for resources on wetlands to share with their class, I said “no problem” and jumped on the web, expecting to find a plethora of materials to choose from childrenwetlandsthat fit the bill.  What I found, instead, was a lot of what I would call “lost websites” — websites that may have once been engaging, functional and up-to-date, but that had since fallen into disrepair with broken links, out of date information or not very interesting or interactive materials.  If I, as a wetland professional, could not easily find what I was looking for, I thought, perhaps others may have an even harder time.

So, today, I am going to share with you the fruits of my labors and lay out some of the different ways that schools, homeschool groups and parents can connect children with wetlands: 1) through access to some interesting and informative websites; 2) through curriculum that focuses on wetland topics; 3) through visits to local wetlands; 4) through taking action to protect and advocate for wetlands; and 5) by developing wetlands  on their own school grounds to create an onsite learning laboratory.

I have formatted the information in this way, after recently hearing a presentation by outreach coordinator Brittany Hayward from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control that discussed the importance of interaction to edgardaleimprove learning outcomes.  She shared Edgar Dale’s research, which shows that (from learning activities), people remember:

  • 10% of what they read
  • 20% of that they hear
  • 30% of what they see
  • 50% of what they both see and hear
  • 70% of what they say and write
  • 90% of what they do

If you talk at people or have them read something, it’s only mildly effective at knowledge transfer.  However, when people take an active role in their learning — doing an activity, completing an online game, reading through something and taking a quiz or a pledge — the result is more meaningful comprehension and retention.  So with that in mind, I share the following resources organized by the location on the Cone of Learning.  I encourage teachers and learners alike to find their way as far along this continuum of engagement as they can. Not just because the learning will be stronger, but the learning becomes more fun as well!

Step 1: Learning by Looking and Gathering

First, let’s talk about some good visual information on wetlands for children on the Internet. There are a lot of sites that have information about wetlands.  Children can search and find hundreds of links.  But most of them are not targeted for their age and contain terms and formatting that is not conducive to child learning.  During my search, I found some specific sites, however, that are well-structured, engaging and well-maintained.

Ranger Rick’s “What Is a Wetland” Webpage

rangerrickThis is a great starter webpage, especially for younger children.  On this page, kids get to meet a guide — Wet Wally — a frog who walks them through the basics of what a wetland is, whether wetlands are all the same, and why they are important.  It includes some neat factoids that my kids loved as well.  The site also includes crafts, recipes, outdoor activities, and songs (some wetland-related). The site also provides an “activity finder,” which allows you to select activities by age, season, type, animals and kids subject.  Clearly, a well thought-out site that includes wetlands, but offers a whole lot more as well.

ScienceTrek – Wetland Facts Webpage

sciencetrekThis site is incredibly well-laid out and interesting. The information is slightly more advanced and hence suited to grades 4+.  The value of this site is that it goes into quite a bit of detail (in a youth-friendly manner) about pollution, functions of wetlands, and some wetland terminology.  For the budding young scientist, this site doesn’t skip the important science parts – it explains how wetlands work, including water, soil and plants.

National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis’ “Kids Do Ecology” Website on Freshwater Wetlands

While this website focuses on a variety of different world biomes, this link is to the site’s webpage that focuses on freshwater wetlands.  The page provides well-written information on location, plants, animals, relationship with people and an array of links that are useful.

EPA Wetland Webpages

eparestorationWhile the EPA’s information on wetlands is not specifically geared to young learners, for older students the EPA does offer an array of more advanced topics and technical briefs.  I often think we underestimate the skills and capacity of young people.  While some may be challenged by the word choice or bored by the layout of the materials, the information is useful and can be used to support interactive learning activities in the classroom or in the field.   This site introduces students to the concept of regulating wetlands to protect them, as well as monitoring and assessment, wetland water quality standards and wetland restoration.  EPA’s site includes a link to resources for parents and teachers, with an especially useful reading list on wetlands for K-12.

Association of State Wetland Managers – Resources for Youth and Teachers

Our own ASWM website offers a number of resources for educators, including how to design workshops and more.  Additionally, ASWM has offered webinars on building education at wetland centers.  As the Wetland Wander, I wrote a previous blog on Wetland Books for Inquiring Young Minds, which offers some recommendations for high quality children’s books on wetland topics.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – What You Can Do to Help Wildlife Website

usfwsWhile this website is not wetland-specific, it is one of my favorite because it focuses on things that young people can do to help the environment.  It lists all sorts of very do-able actions that people can take to reduce their impact on wildlife and their habitats.  This one’s a keeper, so I chose to include it.

Note: In the future, I plan to review the way apps, social media, games and other electronic tools can be used to support wetland teaching and learning as well. 

Step 2: Moving Children from Consuming Information to Interacting with It

Students learn and retain more if they interact with the information they are consuming.  The following set of resources includes activities that teachers or parents can use to engage students in their learning about wetlands.

The Magic School Bus Gets Swamped

magicschoolbusFor those of you living or working with elementary school children, you are most likely already familiar with the Magic School Bus Series.  They go on wonderful nature adventures with a beloved teacher and have all sorts of learning adventures.  I was thrilled to find that the Magic School Bus program had taken on wetlands, as was my daughter.  The site includes a hands-on activity, a “wetland pollution fighters” story by one of the child characters, and instructions on how to create a wetland bulletin board

Exploring Our Wonderful Wetlands (Teacher-guided Activities)

While this resource is best targeted to students in the southeastern part of the country, there are activities that are transferable to any classroom or home.  This teacher’s guide is chock-full of information, activities and ideas for teaching.  It includes five individual “explorations” that educators can use.  The copy-ready activity pages are high quality and will be engaging and thought-provoking for kids in grades 4-7.

Conducting Wetland Education using Project WET

oakmarshProject WET is a nationally-recognized curriculum providing water education for teachers.  Project WET has numerous resources that are useful for teaching children in both the classroom and the field.  I was especially interested in this link (above), which shares how Project WET can be used to conduct wetland education with children at wetland sites.

Scholastic – A Look at the Louisiana Wetlands Following the Gulf Oil Spill

For teachers or parents who are looking to teach youth about the more complex issues of pollution and the relationship between wetlands and polluting events, like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, this video teaching tool provides a thought-provoking louisianawetlandsexploration of the impacts of human activities on a wetland and what these impacts mean for both people and the environment.  This is an excellent civics or environmental policy learning tool, which can be adapted for use for K-12 learning.  The young Scholastic reporter is highly engaging and shows students that they can have a role in making a difference.

Links to additional interactive workbook materials can be found at the end of this blog.

Step 3: Helping Youth Visit Local Wetlands

There is nothing like being out in nature to get people to care about and understand it better.  The ability to step into a wetland and see all they have learned about in books, on the web or in the classroom in the real world is of great value.  As the Wetland Wanderer, I encourage any educator to take your children/students out into a local wetland.  There are dipnetwetland centers, refuges, and sites all across the United States.  Holding a frog, drawing wetland grasses, hearing wetland insects, testing water samples all lead to memorable takeaways for children.   If you are not sure where to find a local wetland, contact your local Audubon Center , your state wetland program office, or search the web.  Wetlands are everywhere, so find one and get out into it!

Remember, when you take children out into a wetland, make sure they are properly clothed (and have good footwear for the wet ground conditions), have bug repellent, food and water, as well as maps to help guide their walk and nature guides for identifying wetland creatures.  One of the most popular additions to wetland walks is often a dip net, which allows kids to scoop into the water and explore what they find.  If you have the opportunity to secure the support of a wetland educator for your field trip, all the better!

Examples of some useful field guides for your wetland field trip include:

Step 4: Taking Action – Teaching Wetland Advocacy

Students can take their learning to the next level by taking action to protect or advocate for their local wetlands.  This can take the form of a wetland clean-up, raising money for wetland protection, serving as a volunteer at a local wetland center and many other activities.  Another type of action kids can take is learning about careers related to wetlands.  The following resources help guide youth as they explore ways they can take action to help wetlands.

actionprojectwildProject Wild: Taking Action

When children are motivated to make a difference, finding just the right guidance is important at each step of the way.  Project WILD provides parents and teachers with this useful guide on how to help kids take action on issues that are important to them, including wetlands.  The guide includes an overview of action and the rationale for action, how to add action to your teaching, an action matrix to guide your projects and other tools, including examples of success stories.

Wetland Job Profiles

If your young one or a student is interested in jobs that work with wetlands or wetland creatures, this resource is a great conversation starter about options in many fields that deal with wetlands.

Step 5: Creating and Exploring School-based Wetlands

schoolyardFinally, learning always has an advantage when students and teachers have ownership for what they are doing.  Across the country there are a growing number of schools and communities that have taken this to heart and developed wetland teaching labs in their schools and neighborhoods.  Here are a number of resources for schools or community groups interested in creating learning wetlands for their students.


In conclusion, there are an infinite number of ways to teach children about wetlands, regardless of your access to resources, travel funds or community support.  Wetlands are often close by and serve as great teaching tools about the interactions between nature and people, as well as ecosystems and food webs.  The work you do to connect youth with wetlands is laudable and we hope that these resources will help you think about new ways to get kids excited about wetlands.    Please let us know of any resources you think are great teaching tools and we will add them to our resource list.  Email any recommended resources to me at

Whatever role you play in teaching and sharing with kids, we hope you too have fun teaching and sharing the wonders of wetlands!

Additional Interactive Wetland Workbooks and Activity Sheets:

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