Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide

PLT book cover K-8 Activity Guide Explore Your Environment

“An important and engaging tool for teachers.” – Kirkus Reviews

PLT’s new flagship curriculum Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide includes 50 hands-on, multidisciplinary activities to connect children to nature and increase young people’s awareness and knowledge about their environment. Activities include detailed step-by-step instructions, academic correlations, time and material requirements, and corresponding student worksheets with green career connections. This supplementary curriculum is designed to develop students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills.


Teaching About the Environment

Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide offers educators a wide variety of engaging, hands-on activities, organized into grade bands: K-2, 3-5, and 6-8. Many activities also suggest variations for doing the activity with a different grade level or audience.

Topics include trees and forests, wildlife, water, air, energy, waste, climate change, invasive species, community planning, and more. The activities encompass the economic, ecological, and social aspects of environmental issues and are designed to help students learn how to think, not what to think.

The activities are suitable for use in formal classrooms and nonformal settings and several are particularly suited to exploring urban environments. Most activities are designed to take one or two 50-minute periods of instruction.

PLT activities are designed to be easy to use. Each activity contains all the information needed to teach the core lesson, including background information, preparation instructions, materials and time requirements, step-by-step instructions, student pages, assessment suggestions, and suggestions for extending the lesson.

Taking students outdoors to make observations or collect data is the core of many lessons and while there are lessons for both indoors and outdoors, all activities offer ways to “Take It Outside!” to extend student learning. In addition, many suggest service-learning opportunities that take students into their community.

Read our announcement.

Get it now! Purchase a print guide or e-book available from Shop.PLT.org, or get it through your PLT State Coordinator along with high-quality professional development and additional resources tailored to your state’s standards and environment. Through these interactive (and fun) in-person or virtual workshops, participants practice how to use PLT materials while also gaining insights from the facilitator and each other related to content and teaching strategies.


Hands-on Learning

PLT activities are hands-on and investigation-based, making learning fun while also building skills, stimulating knowledge gains, and actively engaging students. They afford students the opportunity to learn through real experiences, rather than just reading or hearing about them.

Children discover why leaves turn yellow in the fall. They learn how seeds travel through the wind and grow in the soil where they land. They look underneath leaves, stones, and rotting logs for evidence of decomposers. They create nature journals, develop their creative writing skills, craft stories from their observations. They “adopt” a tree and learn about that species and watch how it changes through the seasons.

They pretend to be trees and gather the nutrients they need for them to survive, collecting different colored squares for each element. They learn to “read” a cross section of a tree to see how old it is through the number of rings and what happened in each year. They learn to focus and observe using their five senses. They map out sounds they hear, they collect data and build bar graphs, comparing different elements in nature they find.

They learn in a different way.

Review brief summaries of the 50 activities contained in PLT’s Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide.


Well-tested Teaching Strategies

All PLT activities have been thoroughly field-tested by educators working with students in the classroom and in nonformal settings. In addition to inquiry-based instruction and outdoor teaching and learning, PLT activities employ differentiated instruction strategies, career connections, STEM skills building, and authentic assessment.

For example, each activity suggests effective strategies for students to apply and demonstrate what they learned from the activity. A Career Corner is included with every student worksheet to introduce youth to related green careers. Every activity incorporates at least some elements of STEM and lists relevant STEM skills. Some activities are denoted as STEM exemplars.

Activities can be used as individual, stand-alone lessons, or several activities can be linked together into a unit of instruction using a storyline technique. Storylines suggested in the guide support learning progressions that hold areas of knowledge and skills together.

PLT is dedicated to ensuring that our education materials contribute to authentic and meaningful learning spaces that represent diverse voices. This newest curriculum has also been developed through a critical lens of justice and inclusion. PLT’s model of professional development also helps to ensure that instruction and content strategies can be modified to meet the needs of all learners.

Learn more about how this guide was developed and some of its key features.


Academics' Choice Smart Book Award Winner Seal in gold and blackAward-Winning

PLT’s Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide has won an Academics’ Choice Smart Book award, was named one of Kirkus Reviews’ 100 Best Indie Books of 2021, and received platinum awards for design and layout, among other recognitions.

Read more about its awards and recognitions.


PLT Meets Academic Standards

Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide is supplementary curriculum that is multi-disciplinary, with an emphasis on science, reading, writing, mathematics, and social studies.

Each PLT activity displays explicit connections to practices and concepts expected by the following national academic standards so teachers can easily see where the materials will fit into their lesson plans:

  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
  • Common Core State Standards—English Language Arts (CCSS.ELA)
  • Common Core State Standards—Mathematics (CCSS.MATH)
  • College, Career, and Civic Life Framework for Social Studies (C3)

Our professional development further demonstrates these connections, as well as to state and local standards.

For example, see our Common Core Toolkit and  NGSS Correlations Toolkit for this guide, also available at plt.org/myk8guide.


High-Quality Professional Development

The Explore Your Environment Online Professional Development Course is a supplement to the Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide and supports formal and nonformal educators, as well as natural resource professionals, in effectively leading activities with youth. 

Through the course’s guidance, activity simulations, video demonstrations, reflection questions, and action planning, you will be able to:

  • Lead activities outdoors and meet your teaching objectives by using the guide’s activities and recommended strategies.
  • Modify and scaffold PLT activities as needed to honor youths’ contexts, backgrounds, and strengths and shape activities based on their culture, race, and ethnicity.
  • Build units of instruction using PLT activities to support the achievement of instructional goals (e.g., academic standards, teaching outdoors, STEM).
  • Use curated resources to support and supplement instruction.

Learn more about the Explore Your Environment Online Professional Development Course in our recent news announcement.

Prefer to attend an in-person or live virtual workshop? Connect to a professional network through your PLT State Coordinator at plt.org/yourstate.


Cover of PLT Explore Your Environment K-8 Guide

Get PLT’s Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide!

Purchase a copy of this 432-page guide from Shop.PLT.org, available as an e-book or printed guide.

Contact your PLT State Coordinator to find about a scheduled workshop in your area, including remote professional development opportunities, or work with him or her to plan one for your unique setting!


Additional Resources

Cross-reference indices for activities include subject; grade level; topic; STEM skills; and differentiated instruction.

Also included are a variety of appendices, for example, Teaching to Standards, Tips for Teaching Outdoors, suggested Units of Instruction, Making a Scientific Argument, Planning an Investigation, and Assessment Rubric.

  • Download resources for this guide at plt.org/myk8guide, including the worksheets (or student pages) for each activity.
  • Subscribe to our newsletter to receive notice of new resources that support this curriculum, plus ideas for engaging students with nature in both a formal classroom and nonformal setting.


Editorial Opinions

“A creative resource for educators looking to focus on teaching sustainability…

Appendices offer helpful additional material, such as “Tips for Teaching Outdoors,” “Making a Scientific Argument,” “Planning an Investigation,” as well as “Urban Outlook,” which offers ways to adapt the material to city settings… Each activity is color-coded and presented with quick reference icons that help educators match their curriculum plans to their needs. The easy-to-grasp visual presentation offers an overview of each lesson, highlights the appropriate grade level, and lists the types of differentiated instruction and STEM skills involved as well as learning objectives; it also provides useful background information to help teachers capture students’ interest. Each activity offers clear step-by-step directions, assessments, and ideas for extended learning, including workbook pages. The activities are innovative and playful; the K-2 activity “Have Seeds, Will Travel,” for instance, suggests using a masking-tape bracelet to help collect seeds, and “Trees as Habitats” includes a Tree Observation Bingo sheet to help learners find evidence of habitation. In the Grades 3-5 section, activities effectively encourage students to extend their studies by considering their future careers in “My Green Future,” make personal connections through the use of “Poet-Tree,” and understand the consequences of human action in “Web of Life.” The learner’s role in the ecosystem plays a more central role in “Decisions, Decisions” for Grades 6-8, which asks kids to consider complicated land-use choices, and in “If You Were the Boss,” about creating a forest management plan. The activities are consistently fun throughout and offer a path toward creating a new generation focused on environmental issues.

An important and engaging tool for teachers.” Kirkus Reviews


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