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“We just felt so strongly that we need to be a support for the groups of people who come to Wolf Ridge each year. We started brainstorming,” said Wolf Ridge associate director Shannon Walz.

The result of those brainstorming sessions is a new online learning curriculum offered for free on the center’s website.

“We didn’t want to do just another YouTube video following a naturalist around in the woods, rather an entire learning experience package with which they can facilitate learning that gets a child outdoors to learn,” said Wolf Ridge executive director Pete Smerud.

The Finland, Minnesota based nonprofit environmental education program provides hands-on outdoor experiences for over 13,000 K-12 students from Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota each school year. In order to shift to an online education format, Walz said they reached out to teachers and students they’ve worked with to hear about what they wanted to see.

“We talked with them about what platforms have been working for them, what hasn’t worked, how to make our displays engaging and used that feedback to create our program,” Walz said. “And we’re hoping to continue to evolve with each lesson.”

Each lesson will include a video, an at-home activity and information for teachers and parents. Teachers will receive documents to help them with an assessment of the child’s learning and parents will get documents to help them engage with their child. Walz said they have eight lessons planned so far, and they plan to release a new lesson each week on Thursdays.

The first lesson focuses on birds, and students are encouraged to go outside and create a sound map of their neighborhoods as part of the experience.

“That’s the key to what we’re trying to do,” Walz said. “We’re trying to get them out in their backyards and outside, safely, of course. There are so many amazing things just in your own backyard and that connection with nature is really important at all times, but especially right now.”

Future lessons will focus on subjects such as weather, cultural history, phenology and art in nature. While the nature center is committed to the first eight lessons, Walz said they’re hoping to do up to 24.

“I believe Wolf Ridge, along with many others, will be changed by the COVID-19 outbreak,” Smerud said. “Online support to our schools and students appears to be one of those ways.”

To access Wolf Ridge’s online learning portal, visit Each new lesson will also be announced via social media and email.

This content was originally published here.