Environmental Education

Learning in the Park

The Whittingham Discovery Center is a state-of-the-art visitor and environmental education center in the heart of Stamford. It is the base for our environmental education programming that highlights the delicate balance between people and the natural world. We believe that understanding and appreciating this relationship is critical in the development of all young people. All of our programs are designed to align with Connecticut’s Next Generation Science Standards. Through these efforts, we hope to improve STEM literacy and increase students’ knowledge and appreciation of nature and the environment.

For further information or to schedule a program, please contact Kristia Janowski at kristia@millriverpark.org.

Classic Trips

Available April through October (All Ages)
Discover the plants that call Mill River Park and the rest of coastal Southern New England home. Learn how native plants support a thriving ecosystem all the way from microscopic organisms to the top of the food chain. We will scour the entire Park in search of every species on our list, stopping to discuss the ecological significance of each species.

NGSS Standards:

1-LS3-3 Structure, Function, and Information Processing

2-LS2-1 Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

3-LS1-1, 3 Inheritance and Variation of Traits

3-LS4-3, 4 Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

4-LS1-1 Structures and Processes

4-ESS2-1 Earth’s Systems

4-ESS3-1 Earth and Human Activity

5-ESS2-1 Earth’s Systems

MS-LS1-1, 3, 4, 6 Matter and Energy in Organism and Ecosystems

MS-LS2-2 Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

MS-LS1-4, 5 Growth, Development and Reproduction of Organisms

MS-LS4-4 Natural Selection and Adaptation

MS-ESS2-1 Earth’s Systems

HS-LS1-5, 6 Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems

HS-LS2-6, 7, 8 Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

HS-LS4-4 Natural Selection and Adaptation

HS-ESS3-3 Human Sustainability  

Available All Year, Both Off-Site and In-Park Programs (3rd-5th Grade)
Through phenomena-based learning, students will understand how important healthy soil is to a resilient and functioning ecosystem. We will cover topics including nutrient cycling, sediment deposition, erosion, and composting. Students will get the hands-on opportunity to explore healthy soil and have a hands-on experience with our resident decomposers.

NGSS Standards:

3-LS4-34, Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

4-LS1-1 Structures and Processes

4-ESS2-1 Earth’s Systems

4-ESS3-1 Earth and Human Activity

5-PS1-1, 3 Structures and Properties of Matter

5-PS3-1, 5-LS1-1 Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems

5-ESS2-1 Earth’s Systems

Available May through August (All Ages)
Who lives in the Mill River? This is your opportunity to find out for yourself! Investigate a leaf pack, which will be deployed into the river and create a temporary home for fish, eels, shellfish, insects, and if you’re lucky even a salamander. This program must be booked at least 4 weeks in advance to give time for leaf pack deployment.

NGSS Standards:

1-LS3-1 Structure, Function, and Information Processing

3-LS4-3-4 Interdependent Relationships in an Ecosystem

3-LS1-1 Inheritance and Variation of Traits

4-LS1-1 Structures and Processes

4-ESS3-1 Earth and Human Activity

5-PS3-1 Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems

5-ESS2-1 Earth Systems

MS-LS2-1, 3, 4 Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems

MS-LS1-5 Growth, Development, and Reproduction of Organisms

HS-LS2-6, 8 Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

Available March through November (4th Grade and Up)
Collect water samples at various points along the Mill River, ranging from freshwater to tidal brackish water, and compare nitrate, dissolved oxygen, and pH levels. We will discuss what factors in and around the river influence these abiotic characteristics of the water.

NGSS Standards:

4-PS3-2 Energy

4-ESS2-1 Earth’s Systems

4-ESS3-1, 4-ESS3-2 Earth and Human Activity

5-PS1-1 Structure and Properties of Matter

5-ESS2-2 Earth’s Systems

MS-PS1-2 Chemical Reactions

MS-LS2-3 Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems

MS-ESS3-3,4 Human Impacts

HS-LS2-3 Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems

HS-ESS3-2, 3, 4 Human Sustainability

Available All Year (All Ages)
Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Mill River Park’s riparian meadows. We will take a leisurely stroll around the Park to observe a variety of bird species, unique native plant habitats, and clues left behind by elusive mammals and reptiles of the Park. This program can be tailored to your specific interests, but must be booked a minimum of 4 weeks in advance.

NGSS Standards: Varies by topic

New Half Day Field Trip Format

3 – 4 hour programs for school groups include lab and field components. Half of the field trip is spent in one of our labs, followed by a 30-minute break for the students to eat a picnic lunch. The other half of the program will focus on place-based field studies out in the park.

Bird Bonanza:

Grades 1 & 2

2.5 hours including a 30-minute picnic lunch

We have a problem and need your help! We can’t ship your favorite eco-friendly toy because it is too expensive to ship over mountains, and the seas are too choppy. The only way to ship your toy is by plane! Help us save fuel by finding the best wings for gliding long distances. We’ll look at the structures of birds and decide the best wings for the job! In the end, we’ll test your plane model to determine the best wings.

Students will observe the structures of animals and plants and discuss the functions of each structure.

In the lab, students will use the observed structures of birds to create planes that glide long distances.

Environmental Engineers:

Grades 5 – 7

4 hours Including a 30-minute lunch

Environmental Engineers are important in solving the problems that are facing our environment.

On the hike, we will examine the ways our parks, meadows, and wetlands act as natural engineers while designing some solutions to keep them healthy.

In this class, students will become engineers to learn about the design process and how it can be used to clean up water, restore habitats, and provide healthier places to live. 

Habitat Hunters 

Grades 3 – 5

3 hours including a 30-minute lunch break

Through hands-on lab activities and exhibition exploration, students will observe, discuss, and examine how different animals are adapted to their different habitats. Students will discover how changes in a habitat directly affect what animals can live there.

Students will hike through the park and hunt for signs of a healthy habitat and the animals that call it their home. They will hear the incredible story of the river’s restoration and explore how restoring a landscape brought life back to a lost habitat and improved the urban environment.

Students will examine live fresh and brackish water animals and compare and record the animal’s structures and behavior in relation to their habitat. They will also utilize hands-on activities to learn more about this amazing native river ecosystem.

Forces and Motion

Grades 3 & 4

4.5 hours, including a 30-minute lunch break

Students explore the principles of motion and forces through hands-on lab activities, a curling demonstration, and ice skating at our Cohen Skating Center. Time on the ice reinforces the concepts they learn in the lab in a fun, active way while giving students a special opportunity to skate* and bond with their peers.

*Ice skating lessons are not part of this class. Students are encouraged to try on their own with skate aids.

Grant funding for this program may be available; inquire for more information.

Through three hands-on investigations involving friction, mass, and speed, students will analyze the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object, observe patterns of motion, and construct explanations about the changes in energy when objects collide.

In a brief demonstration of the sport of curling, students will observe the principles of forces and motion in action. They will relate the scientific phenomena that occur during curling to what they learn in the lab about friction, mass, and speed. The students will experience these principles firsthand as they skate at our Cohen Skating Center.

at Mill River Park

Mill River Park Collaborative has partnered with Henkel North America to bring their Researcher’s World initiative for 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders to the Whittingham Discovery Center. The program aims to spark curiosity in young minds about science and show that science and research require collaboration. The holistic approach of Researchers World combined with Mill River Park’s experiential and place-based methodology provides a powerful learning experience for students. For more about our partnership, click here.

Generous support from the Henkel Corporation has reduced the transportation and cost barriers to participation in the following programs for local public schools. Contact us for more information about pricing.

Sticky Situation

Grade 2 – 3

3 hours including a 30-minute lunch break

Students will be charged with the mission of helping us solve a simple problem in the park. The class will look to nature for inspiration as they help us figure out how to “naturally” hang signs in the park.

Students will hike the park loop, searching for and examining organisms that have evolved to naturally stick to things or stick things together in a variety of ways.

Students will make and test different materials to see which is stronger. They will compare the strengths and weaknesses of how each substance performs.

Nature’s Perfect Packaging

Grades 3 – 5

3 hours, including a 30-minute lunch break

We are in the Plastician era, marked by an abundance of plastic waste. In this class, we will look to nature for lessons on how to package items without waste. Students will act as design engineers working to remove waste from a simple manufacturing process.

Students will hike through the park searching for some of the packages that nature has designed, from seeds to shells to egg casings nature knows packaging. 

Students will examine packaging form, function, and material as they act as design engineers working to remove waste from a manufacturing process.

All About Energy 

Grade 3 – 5 

4 hours, including a 30-minute lunch break 

In this class, students will learn about the conservation of energy, Stamford’s first energy source, hydropower, and explore renewable energy sources such as solar.

In the park, we will discuss other renewable energy sources and the pros and cons of the first energy source harnessed in Stamford, hydropower. First, students will see the site where Stamford’s first dam and grist mill once stood. Then, they will explore how hydropower is generated by designing, building, and testing water wheels in the river.

Students will do a fun activity to understand the conservation of energy and build a circuit using solar cells.

Winter Class Adaptation

During the winter months, the outdoor portion of our classes may be substituted for free skate time on the ice rink. Contact us for more details.