Forest Friday

High Desert Education Service District has been leasing historic Skyliner Lodge, on Deschutes National Forest, since 2010.  The goal is to use the facility for conservation, outdoor and natural resource education.  Nestled near Tumalo Creek, the lodge creates endless opportunities for instructors to incorporate environmental subjects (including botany, geology, hydrology, etc.) into their curriculum at any grade level.  Skyliner Lodge provides an opportunity for teachers to empower their students to experience and connect with the wonder, science and adventure of nature.

Take it from the teachers at Pine Ridge Elementary, who bring their kindergarten classes to Skyliner Lodge once a month. The teachers use the lodge to put a creative spin on reaching Next Generation Science Standards and other educational goals. Students at the kindergarten level are expected to begin observing and developing an awareness of nature and natural processes. Skyliner Lodge and the surrounding area is the perfect classroom to encourage learning of these concepts.

To give examples and ideas of how teachers can use the facility as a classroom, heres an inside look at one of the Pine Ridge teachers’ Forest Days at Skyliner Lodge.


To begin the Forest Day lesson, the teachers asked their students to find their own space outside. The students then practiced an observation exercise focused on their senses.  Students were asked to use their sense of hearing, touch, sight, and smell, and then express their observations using a describing word.  Each sense was given a minute, allowing students to reflect on themselves and their environment.  The result?  The students were developing a sense of spatial awareness and an understanding of natural processes.

” I see snow!”

“I hear birds”

“It smells fresh” 

Being outside and stimulating the different senses promotes language development. Participating in outdoor observation exercises, like the one led by the Pine Ridge kinder teachers, increases children’s vocabulary. One teacher shared that by spending time outdoors, her students “end up picking up on words and their meanings” which “creates a lasting impact on their education.”


Unstructured play outside also builds confidence, creativity, imagination, and responsibility.  Today, most classrooms are highly structured because of the many demands on teachers time.  The Forest Day at Skyliner Lodge gave the teachers the perfect opportunity to offer free time for undirected outdoor play, giving students the chance to learn and explore. “We want them to be calculated risk takers” and to be able to “self regulate,” said Kranzush, one of the teachers at Pine Ridge Elementary, which is when a lot of the problem-solving and social skills come in to play.

During free time, students were seen building creative shelters and structures. Other students used their imagination to build a “mouse house” of what they envisioned smaller creatures living in during the winter months.  The fate of an obstacle course, built by group of boys, was also tested when the boys didn’t know how to put their ideas into action. Instead of giving up, they decided to problem-solve! The boys made a blue print of their design using natural objects. “They said they wanted to make a plan”, said Mrs. Kranzush, “they ended up finding charcoal and drawing what they wanted to do”.


To round out the students’ day at the lodge, the teachers partnered with the High Desert Museum and Bend Art Station for hands-on learning activities.

The High Desert Museum introduced the students to the many different animals residing within the Deschutes National Forest.  The presenter emphasized the Sierra Red Fox, an endangered species within Central Oregon, due to the fact the High Desert Museum and other federal agencies are starting to track the species. The students also learned about what it means to be an endangered species and the roles humans play in species survival.  The students will even get to help the High Desert Museum collect data on the Sierra Nevada Red fox by checking a trail cam for footage and the site for fur samples each month.  Instead of just learning about scientific concepts, these students actually get to experience science hands on!

The students also got to participate in nature painting led by the Bend Art Station. Through this activity, the students were able to learn about the different plants found in the area all while using their imagination to paint artistic designs. The students used juniper branches, sticks, and needles to paint mountains, rivers, and trees. The nature art activity allowed the students to express themselves, and their experience, through art.


The Children’s Forest is dedicated to breaking down the barriers to outdoor learning and bridging the gaps in funding.  We partner with High Desert ESD to share the operating costs of Skyliner Lodge, allowing schools to use the space at no cost.  The Children’s Forest also provides transportation and substitute funding to support field trips, including Forest Fridays with Pine Ridge Elementary, through the School Engagement Fund.  To learn more about reserving the Skyliner Lodge click here.

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