Hands on STEAM learning at Rio Salado

Plus three free activities!

“Did you hear that? What was that sound? The bugs sounded SO LOUD!” Although it seems like a monumental feat, getting a class of fourth graders to stand silently for one minute can be an incredibly powerful moment. In a world that moves so fast and demands so much of students, taking time to slow down and engage their minds and bodies can spark a moment of curiosity. Making it a fun challenge always helps too! 

Hands-on and outdoor learning is the heart of our educational programs at Audubon Southwest. We combine learning about conservation and science, with hands-on, activities and exploration that engage students’ minds and peak their curiosity. Whether it’s using binoculars and microscopes to observe wildlife in the schoolyard, or arts and crafts that explore phenomena of the natural world at the Rio Salado habitat, kids (and adults!) learn best when their hands, bodies, and brains are moving. 

Getting excited? Book programs with an Audubon educator for this spring or summer! We are available for a field trip to Rio Salado Audubon Center, off-site classroom visit, afterschool activities, or scout troops! With help from our education volunteers, we facilitate fun and engaging programs that help students expand their knowledge about our local birds, ecosystems, and community.

Getting excited? Book programs with an Audubon educator for this spring or summer! We are available for a field trip to Rio Salado Audubon Center, off-site classroom visit, afterschool activities, or scout troops! With help from our education volunteers, we facilitate fun and engaging programs that help students expand their knowledge about our local birds, ecosystems, and community. To learn more, check out our school programs brochure and events page to see what’s happening in Phoenix.

Upcoming Events:

  • Family Workshop: Pollinator Party | April 13 at 10:00 a.m.: Join us for another fun family workshop at the Rio Salado Audubon Center! We are celebrating Earth Month by learning all about pollinators and their importance to both wildlife and people. Join our Audubon educator to explore the mysteries of pollination and learn about the different critters we have right here at the Center who pollinate our flowers. We'll play a game while exploring our brand new pollinator garden, then get our hands dirty while making native seed balls to take home! RSVP HERE
  • Family Workshop: World Migratory Bird Day | May 18 at 10:00 a.m.: Fly over to the Rio Salado Audubon Center to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day! Join our Audubon educator for an interactive program to learn more about bird migratory journeys. We'll use binoculars to see birds in the garden and play a fun migration obstacle course where you get to be the bird! Each participant will make a sun catcher to take home and help birds avoid window strikes during their migratory journey. RSVP HERE

Want to start exploring today? Here’s some fun at-home activities to get your hands moving and your brain thinking about nature, science, and more!

Activity #1: Learn about birds and your sense of hearing with a Sound Map

Sound maps allow you to explore and connect with your surroundings in a new way. You will use just your sense of hearing to identify a range of activities and inhabitants that are in your area. This activity can allow you to observe things you may not have noticed if you were just walking through.

Materials: clip board or hard book, piece of paper, pencil, or markers


  1. Find a spot outside where you can go and sit for a few minutes. Make sure you are safe and able to focus in your chosen location.
  2. Mark an X on your paper. That's you!
  3. Then sit quietly, waiting for sounds. You can close your eyes or leave them open, but make sure you are using your ears not your eyes to listen!
  4. When you hear a sound, record it on your map in relation to you. You can use pictures, words, or squiggly lines as representation.
  5. Listen for a few minutes and count how many sounds you can hear. Pay attention to which direction the sound is coming from.

Conservation connection: Try to identify the different bird sounds you hear. How are they similar or different? Even if you are unsure of the species name, how can you describe the sound? Is it a single cheep, or a whit-wheet double whistle? Are there more or fewer birds when there’s more human sounds? Try this activity in different locations and compare your findings.

Activity #2: Practice patterns by making a Sun Catcher

Kids of all ages can explore light and color by making a sun catcher with found nature items. When picking your flowers or leaves, talk with your child about not taking too much from one plant or area, and instead take a little from several places to minimize impact. Small leaves or petals work the best for creating flat-laying art.

Materials list: small flowers, petals, thin leaves, etc., transparent sticky contact paper or wax paper; scissors, tape, hole punch (optional), string (optional) 


  1. Cut two small pieces of unpeeled contact paper into your desired shape (circle, square, etc). Peel one piece, then tape it onto a flat surface, sticky side up. If you can’t find clear contact paper, you can also substitute wax paper then seal it with a low temperature iron, or een clear packing tape. 
  2. Use your found nature items to create patterns, pressing them into the sticky paper surface. Kids can use this time to investigate patterns with color, symmetry, and shapes. 
  3.  Once complete, finish off your sun catcher by placing another piece of contact paper over the top (sticky side down, creating a sandwich with sticky sides both facing in). 
  4. Press the sun catcher as flat as you can. Finish by cutting any excess from the edges. 
  5. You can display the sun catchers by punching a hole and threading it with string. If you prefer, you can also tape them directly onto a window.

Conservation connection: adding sun catchers and other objects can help birds “see glass” better and avoid window strikes. The more creations you put up, the better it works to deter birds!

Activity #3: Strength of the sun through art experiments

Phoenix is the perfect place to explore the strength and effects of the sun by making natural sun prints! The sun emits Ultraviolet Radiation or UV rays. The colorful construction paper contains pigments or dyes. The UV rays break down the chemical bonds in the pigment and dye molecules making the color of the paper fade. By covering up certain parts of the paper with leaves you are blocking the UV rays from touching that part of the paper. You can also try painting with sunscreen to see the same effect and learn how sunscreen is protecting our skin from the damage of UV rays. 

Materials: colored piece of construction paper, large leaves or flowers, small rocks, other found objects


  1. Gather materials outside in a sunny spot.
  2. Put one rock on each corner of your paper to hold it down.
  3. Arrange the leaves and flowers on the paper and then place small rocks on those to make sure they don’t fly away.
  4. Leave your artwork out in the sun for a couple of hours. The longer you leave it out in the sun the more you will see the outline of your leaves when you remove them.

Activity #4: Seed disperal engineering challenge

Seeds are dispersed in many ways, depending on their species and life history. Some seeds are in fruits that animals eat, while others can be carried by water. There are seeds that stick to animal fur or on your clothing. Others are light enough to be dispersed by wind. The longer a seed stays in the air, the farther away it can be blown by the wind, which helps the species spread out over larger distances. In this experiment you will try to design “seeds” and see which models will stay in the air longer.

Materials: small paper clips (“seed”), scissors, and a few of the following: paper, tape, streamers, cotton balls, pipe cleaners, grass


  1. This experiment can be done outside on a breezy day or inside with a fan.
  2. Build several seed dispersal mechanisms for your seeds (paper clips). Some examples:
    • Attach a paper clip to a small square piece of paper without holes.
    • ​Attach a paper clip to a small square piece with cuts and holes.
    • Attach a paper clip to a pipe cleaner folded up.
    • Attach a paper clip to a steamer.
    • ​Attach a paper clip to a cotton ball.
  3. Start by dropping a plain seed (just a paper clip with nothing on it) in front of the fan or outside in the wind. What happens? Next, one at a time, drop your other seeds that you created.
  4. Results. What happened?
    • How far did your seeds go?
    • Did some go farther than others?
    • Did some take a longer time to reach the ground?
    • Did some not work at and just fell straight down with out blowing further? Why did that happen?
    • Can you make changes to your seeds to make them blow farther away?

Conservation connection: You can learn more about native plants and Audubon’s Plants For Birds Initiative Birds often play an essential part in seed dispersal by eating, caching, and pooping out seeds across their habitat. As Pinyon Jays cache pinyon nuts, they help the pine tree spread new plants across the landscape. Learn more about Pinyon Jays and their relationship with Southwestern forests

Share your at-home or classroom projects with us by tagging @audubonsw or emailing us at We would love to see what you do, and expand your learning with a lesson from an Audubon educator! Keep an eye on our events page and newsletter for more upcoming programs as well!

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