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Outdoor Activities

Activity lesson plans are aligned with 5th grade standards, and can also be used with other age groups.


Download the files to print and use for educational purposes with your students, family, or other group.

Ecosystem Activities

Chart of Sandia mountain life zonesLife Zones (PDF)  Look at trees in the Sandia mountains to determine which life zone they are in, and understand the importance of life zones on tree species.


3 metal loupes sitting on tableLoupe and Microscope Analogy (PDF) View natural objects under magnification using hand lenses, loupes, or microscopes to examine form and detail. Create analogies for what they look like, and consider the objects' functions.

Fire plot quadrat monitoring plant growth after fire at the SMNHC.Quadrats (PDF)  Quadrats Lesson Plan (PDF)  Observe everything present in a quadrat placed on the ground outside, and draw and record observations.


Consumer (Animal) Activities

Wildlife camera photo at Mud spring of mama bear and cub.Bear Habitat Checklist (PDF)  Bear Habitat Checklist Lesson Plan (PDF) Search for items that make up a good habitat for bears, and evidence of bear activity.


Grasshopper on woodBuggin' Out Lesson Plan (PDF) A lesson plan for an activity to have students discuss arthropods and then search for insects and other arthropods in an outdoor ecosystem.


Open woodland with trees and small plantsHabitat Exploration (PDF) Describe a habitat you are in, determine animals that live there, and figure out what they use for food, water, and shelter.


Wildlife camera photo of mom and son drinking water at Mud spring.Oh Deer! (PDF) Oh Deer! is an active group activity where students play the role of deer in an ecosystem, trying to obtain food, water, and shelter in their habitat when resources are limited. 

Bear scats preserved sitting on tableScat Chat (PDF) Observe and discuss animals' scat, diet, and connections to producers and other parts of their ecosystem. 


Decomposition & Lichen Activities

Large log decomposingDecomposition in the Forest (PDF)  Decomposition in the Forest Lesson Plan (PDF)  Observe and discuss trees that have died and are decomposing.

Green lichen on branchLichen Key (PDF)  Lichen Key Lesson Plan (PDF)  Identify rock and tree lichens that grow in the Sandia mountains.


Class at the Ponderosa Pine snag on Paradise trail at the SMNHC.Snag Exploration (PDF)  Explore a dead tree snag and the area around it to notice its details, evidence of consumers using it, and understand its ecosystem importance. 


Geology Activities

Students doing Fossil Hunt on fossil hill at the SMNHC.Fossil Hunt (PDF)  Fossil Hunt Lesson Plan (PDF) Find and observe, and identify fossils in the Sandia Mountains, and discuss what these fossils tell us about the ancient ecosystem they're from.

Limestone slab and smaller rocksGeology Rocks (PDF)  Geology Rocks Lesson Plan (PDF)  Carefully inspect a rock, study its geologic properties, and gain understanding about the ancient ecosystem it comes from and its role in the modern ecosystem.

Pile of dark soilSoil Turmoil (PDF)  Learn about soil's importance in the ecosystem, examine a soil core sample, separate out soil components, and test percolation and erosion properties.

Producer (Plant) Activities

Group of kids and chaperones doing Whitfield Bosque Plant Key activity during program at Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area in Belen, NM.Bosque Plant Guide (PDF) A plant guide to endemic and invasive plants along the Rio Grande bosque, designed for use at Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area in Belen, New Mexico.

Cottonwood leaves on branchBosque Tree Key (PDF)  A dichotomous key for identifying tree species along the New Mexico Rio Grande bosque. Designed originally for use at Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area in Belen.


Tall bright red paintbrush flowersEthnobotany Adventure Lesson Plan (PDF)  Ethnobotany Skit (Teacher Copy) (PDF)  Ethnobotany Skit (Student Copy) (PDF) Ethnobotany Cards (PDF)  An activity in which a script is read and plant cards are matched up to be used with different injuries and symptoms throughout the story.

Child touching alligator juniper tree barkFun with Forestry (PDF) Fun With Forestry Lesson Plan (PDF)  Activity for studying the health of a forest ecosystem using forestry tools.


Group of students looking and pointing at Ponderosa pine tree trunk during their Ecology Field Program at the SMNHC.Tree Exploration (PDF)  Learn about a tree in the ecosystem by identifying it, observing the parts of it closely, and identifying what it needs to survive and what things need it to survive.

Students doing tree key activity during their Ecology Field program at the SMNHC.Tree Key (PDF)  Tree Key Lesson Plan (PDF)  Clave Para Identificar Los Arboles (PDF)  A dichotomous tree key for identifying tree species at around 7,000 feet in the Sandia mountains. 


Scavenger Hunts 

Group of cranes in fieldBosque Scavenger Hunt (PDF)  A scavenger hunt to search for natural things that make up the Rio Grande bosque ecosystem in New Mexico. 


Students doing activity writing in notebooks next to prickly pear cactus during Ecology Field Program.Ecosystem Scavenger Hunt (PDF)  Juego de busqueda (PDF)  A scavenger hunt for searching for natural things in an ecosystem and understanding their importance.


Green praying mantis with arms upEcosystem Services Field Hunt (PDF)  Busqueda de servicios ecosistemicos (PDF)  Search for things found in a natural ecosystem that play different roles and fill particular niches.


Group of mushrooms with big caps on forest floorFun Hunt (PDF)  Busqueda divertida (PDF)  A fun scavenger hunt to search for things in the natural ecosystem. 


Very large fluffy white rain cloud over landscapeWeather Scavenger Hunt (PDF)  Search for and record evidence of impacts and changes to an ecosystem from weather variables like rain and sunlight.


Kids during their Ecology Field Program in the winter with snow all over the ground on Meadow trail.Winter Ecology Scavenger Hunt (PDF)  Winter Ecology Scavenger Hunt Lesson Plan (PDF)  Find, observe, and record things in an ecosystem during winter and when snow covers the ground.