Environmental Education

Environmental Education

With a place-based, experiential learning approach, our free Environmental Education Program connects students with nature and promotes ecological literacy, environmental stewardship, and social-emotional learning with field trips that integrate science, natural history, and art. 

Age-appropriate classes are consistent with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and take an ecosystem-level approach to understanding subjects such as the structure of a watershed, species adaptations and life cycles, and the secrets of old growth redwood forests – weaving together a web of interactions of which our students are a vital part. This free service to the community facilitates children’s relationship to the land, instilling in them a conservation ethic from a young age.

Our program includes public and charter schools, home school programs, and groups like scouts, 4-H, the Boys & Girls Club, and the Community Partnership for Youth in Monterey County. We are committed to providing this service to all communities and offer bussing scholarships to schools in need, with over 40% of our classes coming from underserved schools thanks to dedicated support from the Carmel River Watershed Conservancy.

Our Outdoor Classrooms

Potrero Canyon

Join us in the old growth redwood forest at Potrero Canyon on the Santa Lucia Preserve! Coast redwoods stand together with oaks, sycamores, and red alders along Potrero Creek where salamanders slither, owls hoot, butterflies flutter, and coyotes build their dens. Wildlife cameras capture the immense density of wildlife on The Preserve: bobcats, black bears, mountain lions, skunks, opossums, turkeys, foxes, and so much more. Potrero Canyon gives students the opportunity to explore a dense and intact redwood forest perfect for learning about Rumsen Ohlone history, observing seasonal change, and studying biodiversity including mammals, amphibians, insects, and owls.

Rancho Cañada

Come experience the Carmel River and open space at our outdoor classroom at Rancho Cañada, the easternmost section of Palo Corona Regional Park. This site is a perfect example of a habitat in transition — Once a floodplain, the area was converted into a golf course and is slated to be restored to a floodplain again. With direct access to the Carmel River and cottonwoods, willows, redwoods, and oaks dotting an expansive grassland, Rancho Canada has a wide trail network and is an excellent place to learn about the watershed, riparian species, raptors and grassland birds, environmental art and poetry, restoration efforts, and the wildlife corridor from the mountains to the sea. 

Curated Course Offerings

Over 48,000 students have participated in the program since 1999, many returning to build on concepts from previous years. Committed environmental educators curate courses to target grades 1-12 and are happy to accommodate specific requests from teachers to tailor sessions to student needs and target specific curricula.

Seasonal Nature Walk

Grades: All levels

We combine hands-on ecology and natural exploration along Carmel River or its tributary Potrero Creek.  Scout for tracks, scat, birds, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, and an amazing array of plants, from tiny wildflowers to staggering redwoods.

Nature Art & Poetry

Grades: All levels

One of our most memorable classes infuses discovery with creativity. Come curious for an exciting nature walk, and stay for nature-inspired creative reflection through writing and art.  We customize classes to the age and interests of each particular group.

All About Bugs

Grades: 1st through 3rd

Learn about the natural history of insects and other “mini-beasts” and observe them in their homes. We will go on a bug hunt in our highly diverse riparian ecosystem to search for insects in all stages of their lifecycle, which for butterflies includes the eggs, caterpillars, chrysalis, and adults.

Nesting Birds

Grades: 2nd

learn about the species of birds that live in Carmel Valley, the special habitats they need, and how they build their nests. Hands-on lessons cover bird adaptations such as beaks, feet, song, and hollow bones. This course is offered only in the spring.


Owls in the Redwoods

Grades: 2nd and up

Study the hidden and fascinating owls of The Preserve and learn about their adaptations as part of the raptor family and on their own.  Study feathers, owl calls, pellets, and their remarkable old-growth redwood habitat.

The Redwood Ecosystem

Grades: 4th and up

Visit some of the last old-growth redwood groves of the southern range in Potrero Canyon and receive a hands-on introduction to the natural history, ecosystem, and conservation of our state tree. Funded in part by a grant from the Save the Redwoods League.

Mammal Adaptations

Grades: 3rd and up

Uncover the secret lives of our wildlife residents, make a plaster cast of a local animal’s foot and track down your animal’s amazing adaptations for survival. Become a “nature detective” to discover tracks, scat, dens, and other indications of their presence.

Rumsen Ohlone History

Grades: 3rd and up

What was a typical day in Carmel Valley like for the Rumsen people? Living on the Monterey Peninsula for over 8,000 years before Europeans arrived, Rumsen people lived in reciprocity with the native plants, from which they collected seeds, acorns, berries, and materials for basketry.

Intro to the Carmel River Watershed

Grades: 3rd and up

Learn about the water cycle and explore how the Carmel Watershed works to funnel water from the tops of the Santa Lucia Mountains out to the sea. Discuss the biotic and abiotic factors that make watersheds possible and explore some of the species that depend on a healthy watershed for survival.

The Riparian Ecosystem

Grades: 4th and up 

The highest diversity of plants and animals live in streamside environments. Potrero Creek and the Carmel River give students an opportunity to interact directly with the environment while learning about microclimates and food webs, with abundant examples at our finger tips.

Watershed Structure

Grades: 6th and up

Explore natural systems of the Carmel River Watershed, with an introduction to geology, hydrology, and ecosystem services. Discover how interacting components and biological processes form plant communities, floods, and habitat connectivity making a whole much greater than the sum of its parts.

Courses by Request

Grades: Middle and High School

While we are happy to tailor sessions for all of our grade levels, we specifically invite teachers at Middle and High Schools (including Biology, AP Environmental Science, and community service/restoration) to contact us for course curation that fits into your curriculum. Our sites and staff offer excellent outdoor labs for science, history, art, and restoration.