Program Topics


Pre-School Groups - 50 minute Preschool Program
Preschool Programming includes a nature walk and a dino dig experience. Topic focus is ‘Discovering Nature’ and includes basic concepts about life cycles, adaptations, and food webs. 

Grades K-16 - Choose any 3 or 5 of the following to create a unique experience at the Riparian Preserve that best fits your curricular needs. Material will be tailored appropriately for age group: 

New Option! Interact with Wildlife
(additional $3 per student, with minimum of 30 students – may be subject to availability)
Stroke a fuzzy Patagonian Cavy, walk a lizard on a leash, and have a stare-down with a wide-eyed possum! Up close interactions with these educational animals promotes appreciation for wildlife and habitat conservation. 

The Shoreline: A Web of Life
Visit our riparian habitat and learn about food chains and energy flow in these unique ecosystems. After your students observe the special relationships between riparian plants and animals, they will understand the need to protect this diminishing habitat in Arizona!

The Desert: A Web of Life
Discover the Sonoran Desert, the richest desert for life in North America! Learn about the habitat needs of desert plants and animals, and how species are interconnected. Observe how some species mutually depend upon each other in order to survive in an environment with scarce water and extreme temperatures. 

Life Cycles: Strategies for Continuation
All species of life on the planet share the need to reproduce, but the variation
in life cycles are vast. The Riparian Preserve offers glimpses into the stages of life for many organisms, such as plants, birds, and bugs! Discover how different species undergo amazing changes in their appearance and their lifestyles.

Bunches of Birds: Diversity through Adaptations
Over 200 species of birds visit the Riparian Preserve, allowing observations and comparisons of shorebirds, ducks, songbirds, and hummingbirds! See how their different adaptations have changed over time, allowing them to fill unique niches in the ecosystem.

Avian Appreciation: A Bird’s Life 
Observe eggs and nests to understand various life cycles of our feathered friends. Discuss migration, ecological roles, and struggles with changes to habitat. Learn about various conservation efforts and what you can do. 

Beautiful Bugs: Diversity of Arthropods 
Arthropods make up the largest group of animals on the planet, but are often unappreciated. View our specimen collection to understand the special characteristics of the arthropod anatomy and life cycle that have kept them thriving on Earth for so many years. 

Respect the Insect: Appreciating Benefits 
Become a ‘Bug Ambassador’ by learning about the various ways insects benefit our lives on this planet. Discuss and observe aspects of pollination, the food chain, and other ecological roles of our six-legged friends. 

Fossils: Lessons from the Past
Learn how paleontologists have made inferences about past life from fossil evidence, including footprints. Compare the bones from prehistoric and current animals to understand how characteristics of skulls, teeth, and feet might indicate how ancient animals lived. 

Paleontology: Simulated Dinosaur Dig Experience
Work in the Riparian Preserve’s own simulated dinosaur dig site! Understand the careful process of removing soil while protecting precious discoveries. Once uncovered, observe the similarities and differences in the structure of the animals from the past, and understand what that can tell us about animals in today’s world.

Groundwater: An Important Arizona Resource
Much of the water we use comes from supplies far below our feet. The Riparian Preserve serves as a reservoir for returning water to the ground as a way of conserving this precious resource. Observe how differences in soil influence the movement of water through the ground, and how groundwater fits into the earth’s overall water cycle.

Water Cycle: Water of Arizona’s Land and Sky
Observe how water on earth’s surface can move into earth’s atmosphere, then back to the surface. See how variations in earth’s topography dictate movement of water on the earth, and learn about the limitations on the availability of water to the people of the Phoenix Valley.

Photosynthesis: Plants as Earth’s Food Factory
Our hands-on version of molecular conversion from CO2 and H2O into glucose will support students’ understanding of plants as the producers of food in ecosystems. Learn about how the sun’s energy is captured and transferred along the food chain, and how oxygen in released. The Preserve, with its diversity of plant life, provides a beautiful atmosphere in which to appreciate the tremendous and vital role of photosynthesis on Earth. 

Pollination: Getting to Know Flowers
Flowering plants have a unique strategy for passing their genes from parent to offspring, and we’ll closely examine the floral structures that promote that process. Visit the Preserve’s Pollinator Gardens where you can view adaptations of flowers to attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees who perform vital roles in the production of fruit and seeds. 

Ethnobotany: The Plants of Arizona’s Ancient People
Work in the shade of our mesquite ‘wickiup’ structure, as you grind mesquite beanpods into flour, and appreciate the many uses of Sonoran desert plants by the original peoples of this land. Discover how ancient peoples depended upon the plants of the Sonoran Desert for nutrition, shelter, tools, and art. Realize how similar the needs of people living today are to that of the ancient peoples in Arizona. 

Archeology: Simulated Dig Experience
Utilize the Riparian Preserve simulated archaeological site to learn how archaeologists uncover evidence of the lives of ancient people. Practice making inferences based on observations of tools, artifacts, and petroglyphs, while learning more about Arizona’s native cultures. 

Solar Energy: The World’s Power
(weather conditions may dictate topic substitution)
The sun’s energy powers our hydrosphere, our biosphere, and gives us radiant energy that our bodies need to function. Inquiry activities help to understand how energy from the sun transfers to the air, water, and plants at the Preserve. Observe how solar energy can be converted into mechanical energy.

The Sun: Solar Viewings at the Observatory

(weather conditions may dictate topic substitution)
Use the filtered telescopes at the Preserve to view the sun and learn more about the earth’s main power source. Use visual aids to compare it to other stars, recognizing how our sun is just the right size and distance to provide earth with optimal conditions for life as we know it.

Tools for Observation: Lenses Change What We See

Preschool through First Grade will use magnifying lenses and microscopes to see more detail in bugs, feathers, and plants parts. Second grade and up will add the use of binoculars to get a closer view of the birds at the Preserve. 

All topics are tailored to meet the needs of the age group. Conceptual links between topics are based on your group’s unique combination. All programs incorporate both an easy hike around the Preserve and stops for demonstrations or hands-on experiences to reinforce concepts.

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