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Program Topics

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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 three or five 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.

Note: All field trips will receive the “Introduction to the Riparian Preserve” class which focuses on the public and environmental needs that are met at the Riparian Preserve.

These classes include tours of the Riparian Preserve so that students may view plants and wildlife in a natural setting:

The Lives of Birds

Take a glimpse into the fascinating lives of birds.  The Riparian Preserve provides a sanctuary for many bird species, and also reveals special opportunities to appreciate the life cycles of hummingbirds, songbirds, ducks, and shorebirds.  Learn about species that nest in the Preserve and others that journey here during their annual migration in search of food.  

Beautiful Birds: Diversity and Ecology

The Riparian Preserve provides an excellent setting for observing diverse species of birds from hummingbirds to herons. Visit desert and aquatic habitats in the Preserve to learn about how the physical adaptations and behaviors of different birds allow each species to fill a unique niche in the ecosystem, and how each species performs vital ecological roles.

Riparian Habitats: Life along Rivers

Learn about the importance of riparian habitat to wildlife as you walk through the cottonwood and mesquite forests of the Preserve, while observing water birds, songbirds, dragonflies, and turtles. This class focuses on riparian ecosystems, the relationships between plants and animals, and conservation of precious riparian habitats.

Life on the Desert

The Sonoran desert is a region of surprising biological diversity where unique species of plants and animals manage to thrive in a land of little water. Learn about the interdependence of plants and animals by observing saguaro, palo verde, birds, and other wildlife in the desert habitats of the Riparian Preserve.

*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. 


The vast majority of plants on earth depend on pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to transfer pollen from flower to flower, a process necessary for the production of seeds and fruit. A tour of the Riparian Preserve’s pollinator gardens showcases the special relationships between a variety of Sonoran desert plants and their pollinators.  Close examination of floral structures and spontaneous visits by wild hummingbirds highlight the class.

Ethnobotany of the Sonoran Desert

People have depended on plants in the Sonoran desert for thousands of years. Learn about the cultural uses of Sonoran desert plants, including saguaro, mesquite, and others, by visiting the Riparian Preserve’s ethnobotanical garden.

These classes involve activities and/or educational presentations in the park area of the Riparian Preserve:

*Respect the Insect

Insects and other invertebrates account for most species of animal life on the planet, and they perform vital ecological services on which other species, including our own, depend. Beautiful displays of preserved insects allow students to closely examine these amazing animals, while learning about insect life cycles, adaptations, and the need for habitat conservation. 

*Fossils: Clues to the Past

Discover how ancient animals lived by examining our collection of fossil replicas. Students get to see and touch fossil replicas from Tyrannosaurus, and Stegosaurus, as well as dinosaur footprints, teeth, claws, and eggs.    

Paleontology: Simulated Dinosaur Dig Experience

Uncover fossil replicas of ancient reptiles in our simulated dinosaur dig site! Students use tools to examine features of fossils and gather clues to understand the lives of dinosaurs.

The Sun: Solar Viewing at the Observatory

Look through the telescope with special filters to view our closest star. East Valley Astronomy Club volunteers teach students about the sun, its characteristics, and why the sun is important to life on planet Earth.

Solar energy

Students use simple tools such as spectrophotometers and radiometers to learn about solar energy, and participate in guided activities to understand the relationships between light, heat, and kinetic energy. The class also includes discussions on the relevance of solar energy to plant life.


Nearly all forms of life on earth depend on the process of photosynthesis.  Students build simple molecular models to understand how plants use light energy to manufacture the sugar, glucose, from water and carbon dioxide, and learn about how this process sustains life on earth.

You may select any combination of either 3 or 5 topics; however, we recommend the following topic combinations if you wish to focus on the following subjects:

Focus on Birds:  Beautiful Birds: Diversity and Ecology, The Lives of Birds, Riparian Habitats: Life Along Rivers

Focus on Plants:  Pollination, Photosynthesis, Ethnobotany of the Sonoran Desert

Focus on Insects:  Respect the Insect, Pollination, Life on the Desert

Focus on Wildlife: Interact with Wildlife, Life on the Desert, The Lives of Birds

Focus on Dinosaurs:  Fossils: Clues to the Past, Paleontology: Simulated Dinosaur Dig Experience, Beautiful Birds: Diversity and Ecology

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.

Additional Resources