Wetlands Outreach: Tools of the Trade

To wrap up American Wetlands Month, we’d like to showcase some of the outstanding educational tools that the Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! teams have developed to help teach about wetlands and the importance of these amazing ecosystems on our landscape!

Classroom Outreach
Much of our wetlands outreach with youth is done in the classroom. During a 40-45 minute classroom period, students get to explore the fascinating world of wetlands and the importance of these vibrant ecosystems and the biodiversity they support.

welcome to wetlands


We start out by going on an (audio) field trip, exploring the sounds of wetlands. Students close their eyes and are serenaded by leopard frogs, ducks, geese, and other bird sounds.  NO, it’s not the jungle or Amazon rainforest … we’ve traveled to the Wonderful World of Wetlands!

wetlands wordcloudNext students learn several of the different names by which wetlands are called. Some names are more familiar than others – swamp and marsh are very well known, while prairie pothole and fen are new to many students!  Slough (slew) is another fun one – weird spelling, but fun to say. We can’t forget mire and quagmire, as well.

wetlands are uniqueStudents then learn the three characteristics that make wetlands unique, as shown above. This is followed by exploring three very important jobs that wetlands do:

  1. Wetlands act like a Filter
  2. Wetlands act like a Sponge
  3. Wetlands act like a Home (Habitat)

After brainstorming many of the different creatures that would call wetlands their home, our focus narrows, zooming in on the birds and waterfowl. The following is an excerpt from a fall classroom experience with 5th graders:

WR! Staff: “It’s fall, and if we look up in the sky, what are the birds doing this time of year?”

Student:  “Oh!  They’re flying south!”

WR! Staff: “That’s right.  Can anyone tell us what that long journey is called?”

Student: “Migration!”

WR! Staff: “Excellent.  Now the birds’ migration is kind of like us going on a road trip or a vacation with our families.  So let’s imagine we’re going on a road trip…  the car is all packed… and we hit the road.   But eventually we’re going to need to stop.  What are some of the reasons we might need to stop on our journey?”

Students: “To get food.” “You’re thirsty – get something to drink.” “Go to the bathroom.”  (giggling) “Maybe stop and look at the scenery?”  “Get out and stretch.”

WR! Staff: “What if it’s a very long journey that might take several days?”

Students: “We’d need a hotel to rest!”

WR! Staff: “Well, there are a lot of similarities between our road trip and birds migrating twice a year. Birds need to stop for many of the same reasons we would. Thinking about what we’ve learned so far, where might birds stop on their journey?”

Students: “Maybe wetlands?

WR! Staff:  “Exactly!  Wetlands can provide all of those things we just talked about—food, water, shelter, a place to rest and recharge, a place to nest—wetlands are like a restaurant, gas station and hotel all in one!”

WR! Staff: “And when we go on a road trip, what is the name of the major road we travel on?”

Students: “Interstate or highway.”

WR! Staff: “That’s right, the highway.  And when birds migrate, they take the same path year after year, and they travel on the FLYWAY!”

Migration patterns

After engaging in an exchange like this, the students get to play Habitat Hopscotch. Students are invited to “summon their inner birds” and migrate from Canada to Mexico, with each hopscotch square representing wetlands in different states along the Mississippi River Flyway.

Each round of Habitat Hopscotch gets more challenging as wetlands (hopscotch squares) are removed due to different environmental scenarios such as draining for agricultural use, building a new shopping mall, climate change, etc. After the game’s completion, we lead a follow-up discussion with students to talk about what the loss of wetlands means to migrating birds based on their experience.

IMG_3491IMG_2520Students then get introduced to many of the other creatures that call wetlands home in a competitive game of Wetlands BINGO.  The hands-on approach and game show theme fosters a high level of engagement and curiosity throughout!


Videos, Webinars, and Print Resources
Beyond classroom programs, our team offers an abundance of additional resources – videos, webinars, and print materials — to help people of all ages learn more about wetland ecosystems…

For elementary and middle school students, check out our super silly, super fun music video Wetlands Have Real Important Jobs to Do!

WetlandsHaveRealImportantJobsThe Conservation Dogs are all about wetlands, too! Check out Episode 4 and Episode 10 in the Adventures of the Conservation Pack series, where wetlands take center stage.

C-Pack-Charlie-WetlandsFor middle school and high school students, our new music video All About That Bog is a big hit!


Our award-winning film Incredible Wetlands helps students and adults explore the biologically productive, and diverse, nature of wetlands and the vital role they play to life on Earth.

IncredibleWetlandsWetlands have also been featured several times in the Iowa Learning Farms webinar series. Check out these archived webinars to learn more:

Wetlands as Nutrient Sinks in Agricultural Landscapes, presented by Bill Crumpton
Iowa DNR’s Wetland Monitoring Program, presented by Jacklyn Gautsch

WetlandsImplementationAlso check out the Wetlands Implementation 4-page fact sheet in our “It Begins With You” series.

Thanks for joining us on this journey through American Wetlands Month!

Ann Staudt

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