School of the Wild - Iowa Wildlife Federation

School of the Wild

Proudly Sponsored by IWF

The Iowa Wildlife Federation is a proud supporter of UI Wild’s School of the Wild. School of the Wild provides a unique learning perspective for young Iowans, inspiring students to care for the habitat in which they live and the wildlife with whom they share their habitat.

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

– Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac.

School of the Wild Mission

Our mission is to awaken an awareness of the wildlife and natural ecosystems in our area, develop an appreciation of the natural world, and encourage a balanced environmental ethic and caretaker attitude concerning the earth. 

School of the Wild is one of three programs that make up UI WILD in the University of Iowa’s College of Education. In 2000, School of the Wild became the first NCA accredited special purpose school, the first accredited environmental school in Iowa. [photo]

This innovative program partners with local schools to develop curriculum that helps students incorporate academic skills into the natural world. Teachers and School of the Wild staff work together to enhance classroom lessons by providing students the opportunity to practice newly learned skills in a setting outside the classroom. This opportunity not only helps students master basic skills (math, language, social studies, science), taking lessons outside provides a unique opportunity to interact with peers, teachers, and parks. Providing a sense of community that nurtures learning, creativity, and self-esteem. Students use classroom skills to learn new concepts as well as learning about how they are a part of our environment. 

“Often kids take a day or more to acclimate to their outdoor classroom. For some, it may be the first time they have visited their local park or interacted with the natural environment.”

“When the learning environment is changed, the classroom dynamics change. Suddenly, the child who hasn’t participated in classroom lessons becomes the leader, guiding others through activities. That moment, that opportunity, changes that student’s perspective, as well as how that student is perceived. That experience alone is priceless!”

– Jay Gorsch

What Teachers Say About School of the Wild

“I love School of the Wild. It is hands-on and academic at the same time. Getting kids out of the classroom and into nature is a great thing in an increasingly digital world. The program also allows students and teachers to see each other in a different setting and light. Finally, seeing and interacting with students who generally stay quiet, are not academically oriented, or considered outsiders by their peers is awesome. Those kids come to life once we get out there. The kids and staff have loved it.”

“School of the Wild has been a great experience for students to explore the positives of learning in nature. With School of the Wild students takes a hands-on learning approach to help them grow academically, emotionally, socially, and physically. We love seeing the different strengths students are able to showcase as they learn in the outside elements. School of the Wild is something our staff and students look forward to each year.”

“I would like to say that School of the Wild has benefited the 4th-grade class that I teach in so many ways. The program not only allows students to see things that they otherwise wouldn’t in the classroom, but it also builds relationships within the classroom. Our class attended School of the Wild in October of this year and there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t have one of the students mention something they learned or saw during that week. I also know this helps students’ interest in reading. The students that I teach are more likely to pick up a nonfiction book than what they were willing to do earlier in the year! I would recommend School of the Wild to any classroom teacher, it is amazing!”

“The School of the Wild (SOW) has become my favorite week of school. It is definitely one of the first things I brag about when asked about our school. Sometimes I even find it hard to believe that I get paid to teach during the week as it is an absolute joy for me to do so. 

The longer I teach, the more I see students who are lacking in their connection to nature and their surrounding outside world. Students seem more and more in need of time outside. SOW gets everyone outside for extended periods of time. Students learn about nature at the park, but they also enjoy themselves while they are there.

We live in a county with many parks and public areas. However, few students or staff report spending time at the parks before our SOW week. I especially enjoy when students share that they ask their parents to bring them back to the park. When kids are excited to share the outdoors of our parks with their parents, it feels like the week never has to end. The time in the park does so much for a student. It completely wears everyone out in a very good way. Hiking, exploring, and soaking up sunshine requires physical activity not seen in a regular school day. SOW activities require interaction among all students in a group. Student groupings may contain a range from best of friends to students who don’t usually talk to each other. After a week in the wild, though, student groups become a group of friends more connected by their many shared experiences from the week.

Students also seem to better understand their place in nature and why nature is important to all of us. An example of this is in the care we stress as important at the park. Through our SOW prep, students learn park etiquette and responsibilities for use. It always surprises me how some students assume items in nature are free for the taking. Some students also learn for the first time how important it is to leave nothing behind and end the week more likely to pick up litter left by someone else.

Student mindsets are widened during the week in the wild. Hiking for miles, building a shelter, catching a fish, paddling across the lake, and packing all that they need for the day are just a few activities that prove to students they can do anything they set their minds to do. Students learn that they are capable of far more than they may have expected.

Life lessons of responsibility are seamlessly integrated in the week as students are expected to pack all they will need on their own backs. Surviving a day at the park may not sound difficult, but the ownership in enjoying the day because you have packed all that you need forces students to think for themselves, and take care of themselves. The autonomy that develops is good for all students. The week is a test of everyone’s ability to forecast, plan, and prepare to have a great time in the woods.”

What Naturalists Say About School of the Wild

“School of the Wild is a great hands-on activities program that gets students outdoors and reconnects them to nature. The program unplugs them from the internet, cell phones, and all the technology they are saturated with daily. The students are plugged back into the world of nature by doing hands on activities that past generations did by playing in the woods, prairies, wetlands, and parks. School of the Wild is the cure for Nature Deficit Disorder that so many youth suffer from today.”

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