Parks As Classrooms offers a variety of programs for North Carolina elementary school students.
How would you like to have a waterfall in your classroom, or seven hundred and fifty white tailed deer, or a million blooming wildflowers, or the largest collection of historic log buildings in the east? You can have all of these resources and more when you bring your students to a Parks as Classrooms program at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
It only makes sense that a national park that is known internationally for its spectacular biological diversity and historic preservation also be recognized as the perfect living lab and classroom.
At Great Smoky Mountains National Park we serve over fifteen thousand students a year in a K through 12 curriculum that’s very hands on and it progresses from awareness, to knowledge, to stewardship. Students learn to appreciate the wonders of nature and heritage while learning in the very heart of the resource. We teach the state mandated standards of learning using park resources to meet the teacher’s classroom goals.
The programs are developed jointly by teachers and park educators and they include pre-visit, post-visit activities, along with assessment tools.
In North Carolina education park rangers have examined the North Carolina Standard Course of Study to develop programs for Kindergarten through 5th grade that meet the needs of you, the teacher, while informing students about how issues like habitat protection, air pollution, and stewardship impact park resources and neighboring communities.
Kindergarten-Explore with Your Senses! –Kindergarten students explore the Mountain Farm Museum and neighboring woods using their senses. Students are introduced to the history and wildlife of the National Park through conversations with Barney the Talking Barn, sensory walks, a nature sound activity, classification exercises, and color hunts.
First grade-Have to Have a Habitat- Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a special area that provides habitat for many of North Carolina’s native plants and animals as well as a place for people to have fun. 1st grade Students use sifter boxes to discover and classify soil organisms and role-play bears to learn about the needs of animals. The students conclude their day with a walk to Toms Branch waterfall and enjoy a quiet reflection activity.
Second Grade- History and Culture- 2nd grade students discuss communities as they tour Mingus Mill and learn the role mills and corn played in the lives of local residents over one hundred years ago. Students walk along old wagon roads while learning how the forest provided building materials, food and medicines for the community and compare and contrast their lives with those of children in the past. A favorite activity in this program is the historic toys portion in which students make a wooden toy to take home.
Third Grade- What Makes Great Smokies Great? Quiet walkways, stream floodplains and picnic pavilions provide the backdrop for 3rd grade student to discover soil properties, plant adaptations, and the environmental issues facing the park. Plant lifecycles, habitat, biodiversity and interrelationships are the focus of the hands-on activities while stewardship is the underlying theme during discussions.
Fourth Grade- Mountain Farm Museum- 4th Grade students trace the history of colonization of Western North Carolina and study rural life in the 1800’s by working in a blacksmith shop, cooking at an open hearth, playing historic games and studying artifacts. Through this program, students learn about the challenges and rewards of preserving and protecting our heritage and public spaces.
Fifth Grade- On Top of Old Smoky- Clingmans Dome serves as the picturesque high elevation classroom where 5th grade students examine the ecology of sky-island habitats. The mountaintop is also a great venue for students to build their understanding of weather, air pressure and landforms through direct observation as well as the use of weather measurement tools. A more extensive 6-hour program includes a 1-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail and a quiet reflection activity. This version of the trip allows for greater depth of instruction and discussion and is highly recommended by the rangers.
Parks as Classrooms programs usually run from 10am to 1pm with lunch in between activities in locations around the park where restrooms are accessible. Group size is typically 60 students with chaperones required.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is able to offer the Parks as Classrooms programs free of charge through the generous support of Great Smoky Mountains Association, Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and a variety of other donors.
We often have funding to off set transportation costs. We are always adding new program offerings; currently we are working on programs on climate change and archaeology. So check out our website for the latest offerings and information on how to sign up your class.