Tight on space and often located in the heart of busy urban blocks, many New York City school kids have little access to a backyard or green play areas in their schools. Thankfully, many creative outdoor education programs exist to help give inner-city schoolchildren an opportunity to learn and experience nature. Here are four programs that are challenging city school kids to learn more about the natural world and get outdoors to learn and play.

NYC Nature

NYC Nature offers a wide range of programs to help kids experience the world outdoors and bring natural objects indoors. Through a number of expeditions, teachers and students can learn about bugs, geology and ecology. Emphasis is placed on safely and respectfully exploring the natural world as well as recognizing the link between nature, humans and the environment. 

For students that can’t leave the classroom, NYC Nature also offers an in-class program that allows students to learn about ecology and the natural world right from their own desks.

Brooklyn Botanical Garden


Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s outdoor learning programs are not just for kids. Committed to teaching about horticulture and the environment to all ages, the Botanical Garden offers a range of workshops and certificate programs for budding horticulturalists of all ages.

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For K-12 learners throughout the boroughs, teachers can arrange for their classroom to explore the botanical garden’s grounds on a self-guided tour. High schoolers serious about environmental issues and plant science can also enroll in the Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment (BASE), a small public high school that uses the botanical garden as its own environmental learning lab.

The Brooklyn Botanical Garden also supports teacher education, offering programs to help classroom educators gain the tools they need to make the outdoors and plant science part of their classroom curriculum.

Learning Gardens


Learning Gardens is an outdoor education program sponsored by the City Parks Foundation that encourages New York City elementary and middle school students to get outdoors. Partnering with local schools, Learning Gardens works with students in some of the most densely populated areas of the city to experience the outdoors and learn about nature.

Operating four gardens in three boroughs, students enrolled in the Learning Gardens program engage with 14 hands-on, science-based lessons that utilize the program’s gardens and teaches important lessons about the food chain, urban ecology and environmental issues.  Since 2004, nearly 20,000 students, teachers and others have benefited from the Learning Gardens programs.

New York City Environmental Education Program


The New York City Environmental Education Program offers a number of programs for both kids and adults to help educate New Yorkers about environmental issues and encourage them to get outdoors.

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City schoolchildren can participate in the After School Conservation (ASCC). Targeted at inner-city kids that may not have access to green spaces, the ASCC program has both a hands-on curriculum and a stewardship project that encourages kids to learn to respect and conserve nature. 

During the fall, ASCC students learn about conservation and environmental ethics as well as complete a project on recycling and composting. During the spring months, students focus on New York City’s waterways and learn about water, fish ecology and focus on how humans impact the water around New York City. During the spring months, the kids enrolled also build a butterfly garden and learn about habitat preservation.

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Tamar Auber is a freelance writer whose work can be found on Examiner.com.