School of the Wild is a statewide initiative to increase outdoor learning experiences for elementary and middle school students across Iowa. The University of Iowa’s College of Education in partnership with Iowa schools, County Conservation Boards, and many other local conservation organizations across the state work together to bring School of the Wild to students. School of the Wild strives to provide all students with a meaningful, outdoor learning experience that develops a sense of awareness and appreciation for the natural world, and in turn, leads them to act with positive stewardship for all things wild.  

How it started

School of the wild staff and students inspect a snake in the field

In 1991, the University of Iowa’s Iowa Wildlife Camps were birthed with a goal of connecting area children and youth to “the Wild”. These week-long day camps provided hands-on experiences in the woodlands, wetlands, and prairies of the university’s Macbride Nature Recreation Area. As the camps grew, a vision formed to bring the best of these camps into the school year so that all students would have the opportunity to connect to the Wild. In 1998-2000, grants from the U.S. EPA Environmental Education Program and the Iowa DNR REAP Conservation Education Program funded the piloting of School of the Wild for all 17 Iowa City Community School District elementary schools. Today, there are 21 schools in the district and each continues to participate in this five-day experience in the Wild!

In 2019, School of the Wild endeavored to bring these outdoor learning experiences to even more students. With Decatur County Conservation, School of the Wild was brought to 4th and 5th grade students at Central Decatur Community Schools. In the fall of 2020, the statewide effort was launched.

School of the Wild today

Naturalists, and other informal educators, in 44 counties are working with teachers from 98 schools across Iowa to conduct School of the Wild programs. The program reaches more than 6,000 students. The map below highlights counties involved in this effort to provide school children with immersive outdoor learning experiences in their local parks.  


School of the Wild, participating Iowa counties

Participating counties: Decatur, Ringgold, Jackson, Jones, Linn, Washington, Johnson, Iowa, Poweshiek, Guthrie, Cass, Montgomery, Hamilton, Webster, Dickinson, Clayton, Fayette, Buchanan, Henry, Adams, Taylor, Pottawattamie, Audubon, Mahaska, Butler, Grundy, Dallas, Allamakee, Winneshiek, Black Hawk, Muscatine, Jasper, Tama, Polk, Woodbury, Carroll, Mills, Boone, Story, Chickasaw, Cedar, Scott, Keokuk, Jefferson. 

School of the Wild School DistrictsGrade(s)#ofSchools
Andrew Community School District5th Grade1
Audubon Community School District5th Grade1
Bellevue Community School District5th Grade1
BGM Community School District6th Grade1
Cedar Falls Community School District6th Grade7
Cedar Rapids Community School District5th Grade4
Central5th Grade1
Central Decatur Community School District5th & 6th Grades1
Clear Creek Amana Community School District5th Grade3
Coon Rapids - Bayard5th Grade1
Council Bluffs Community School District5th Grade1
Council Bluffs Lewis Central5th Grade1
Davenport6th Grade2
Decorah4th Grade1
Des Moines Public Schools4th Grade1
Dike-New Hartford Community School District6th Grade1
Easton Valley Community School District5th Grade1
Faith Academy (Iowa City)6th Grade1
Fort Dodge St Edmonds Catholic School6th Grade1
Gilbert5th Grade1
Gladbrook-Reinbeck Community School District5th Grade1
Graettinger-Terrill Elementary School4th Grade1
Griswold Community School District5th Grade1
Grundy Center4th Grade1
Harris-Lake Park Community School District4th Grade1
Hillcrest Academy6th Grade1
Heritage Christian (North Liberty)4th Grade1
Highland Community School District4th & 5th Grades1
Independence Community School District6th Grade1
Iowa City Community Schools6th Grade22
Iowa City Homeschool AssociationMultigradeNA
Lamoni Community School DistrictGrades 6-81
Lenox Community School District7th Grade1
Lisbon3rd Grade1
Lone Tree Community School District5th Grade1
Lynnville-Sully Community School District5th Grade1
Madrid6th Grade1
Marquette Catholic School (Bellevue)5th Grade1
Meskwaki Settlement School5th Grade1
MFL MarMac Community School District5th Grade1
Mid-Prairie Community School District6th Grade1
Montezuma Community School District6th Grade1
Monticello Community School District5th Grade1
New Hampton4th Grade1
Oskaloosa Community School District4th Grade1
Panorama Community School District5th Grade1
Pekin6th Grade1
Perry Community School District4th Grade1
Riverside5th Grade1
Sacred Heart Catholic School (Maquoketa)5th Grade1
Sacred Heart Catholic School (Monticello)5th Grade1
Sigourney5th Grade1
Spirit Lake Community School DistrictGrades 5-81
Solon Community School District5th Grade1
Southeast Valley Community Schools6th Grade1
Southwest Valley Community School5th Grade2
Starmont Community School District5th Grade1
Tipton8th Grade1
Underwood Community School District5th Grade1
WACO Community School District7th & 8th Grades1
Webster City Community School District6th Grade2
West Liberty Community School District4th Grade1
Williamsburg Community School District            6th Grade1
Woodbury Central4th Grade1



Firsthand experience

Educators and administrators share their experience with School of the Wild.

Clayton County official guides students in the wild

Clayton County Conservation

Kenny Slocum, the Naturalist and Resource Manager at Clayton County Conservation, reflects on his experience guiding student learning at School of the Wild.

Fifth and sixth graders ready to start their final day of School of the Wild

Decatur Community School District

Drury Outdoors visits fifth and sixth graders from Central Decatur Community School District during School of the Wild.

Learn more about ...

School of the Wild is made possible by the communities it serves. Participating Schools partner with local organizations to plan and implement School of the Wild for their students.  

School of the Wild happens thanks to the following groups of people:  

  • Participating Classroom Teachers & School Staff 
  • County Conservation Boards
  • Iowa Lakeside Laboratory
  • ISU Extension
  • City Parks & Recreation Departments
  • Iowa Department of Natural Resources
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service

School of the Wild is supported by the Iowa Wildlife Federation, Green State Credit Union, the State of Iowa’s REAP CEP Grant Program and individual donor support.  

Become a School of the Wild Sustaining Donor

Support School of the Wild with a One-Time Donation


No two School of the Wild programs look the same! The outdoor learning experience is designed to uniquely meet the needs of the learners and the local environment.  

But they do look similar ...  

Pillars of a School of the Wild experience include:  

  • Extended Learning Experience  
  • Learning with a Small Group of Peers  
  • Place-Based Learning Activities  
  • Interdisciplinary Curriculum  
  • Accessible for all Learners  

School of the Wild runs during the traditional academic year in the fall or spring. For no less than four days, “school” takes place in a local park or natural spaces in the students’ community. In small groups of 8-15 of their peers, students explore one of five unique areas of study each day with local naturalists, conservationists, and their classroom teachers. Areas of study often include subjects such as ornithology, prairie natural history and ecosystems, archeology, wetland ecosystems, and woodland wildlife and ecosystems. The curriculum is designed to be place-based, in which the environment is uniquely required for the activity and the concepts are relevant to the students and the local context. Activities incorporate science, language arts, social studies, art, math, physical education, and outdoor recreation. School of the Wild strives to meet students’ physical, emotional, and cognitive needs to make the program accessible for all learners.

School of the Wild provides a multi-day, place-based, outdoor learning experience. The overarching learning outcomes include: 

  1. Students foster a greater sense of place and motivation to adopt conservation and environmentally sustainable behaviors.  
  2. Students’ self-efficacy and sense of identity within their school community improves.  
  3. Students gain confidence in their ability to apply science and engineering practices, literacy skills, and creative arts to deepen understanding of relevant natural phenomena and how people interact with their environment. 

In the news

Students survey the landscape with binoculars during School of the Wild

In the News: School of the Wild expands to get hundreds more Iowa kids into the woods

The University of Iowa is expanding its wilderness education program to reach 4,500 elementary school children this year, and it should bring the outdoor learning experience to more than 6,000 next year.

kids outside sitting on the ground, recording their findings during School of the Wild

Gazette: School of the Wild connects youth and nature with equity

Housed in the University of Iowa College of Education, School of the Wild partners with schools across the state to give kids an opportunity to learn about the natural world through immersion.

Contact Us

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