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Welcome to Rensselaer Youth Outdoors! 


We are a network of partners that introduces and engages the children and families of Rensselaer County in the wonder, science, and adventure of nature in an effort to create a healthier, more sustainable community in an increasingly complex world.


If you are a parent, teacher or young person, spend time within a school district or youth organization or want to support young people to be their healthiest, then this is the place for you.


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At Rensselaer Youth Outdoors we focus on fostering meaningful connections to nature for youth and families throughout Rensselaer County.


Since 2016 there are many ways RYO has supported young people across the county. Depending on the circumstances, we have come to your school, offered an afterschool program, loaned you a kit of activities on a topic or co-created a custom built opportunity that’d worked specifically for your group. 


Below are some examples - if something looks good, or sparks your curiosity, be in touch and let’s talk! Email RYO Director Michala Hendrick at

Schools Get Outside

Averill Park and Berlin School districts partnered with RYO on a two year pilot program to get more children investigating and connected with the outdoors.  During the Spring of 2018, third graders investigated fish ecology, animal adaptations and the water cycle in class and during field experiences at Grafton Lakes State Park and Dyken Pond EEC.


Haley shrieked with excitement as she peered at a thumb sized precarious diving beetle in her net. “What IS that?!”, she asked. That question fueled a discussion about water quality, a topic that’s hard to teach in a classroom.  It’s all part of a pilot program in a few Rensselaer County schools to teach curriculum through rich outdoor experiences. 


“Our students loved collecting and finding living things in the pond. It was amazing.”, said Jennifer Brown, a third grade teacher at West Sand Lake, after a field trip to the Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center.  

Schoolyard Naturalist Teacher Kits

Thanks to a generous grant from the USDA Forest Service, the following classroom kits are available for loan to all Rensselaer County teachers.  The kits are geared towards K-8 students.   Please contact us to borrow one today! 



The trees we walk by every day can transform into fascinating, year-round outdoor labs!  This kit includes lesson plan ideas,  class sets of tree identification guides, hand lenses, tree cross sections and measuring tapes.  We’ve also included a few non-fiction books to inspire further investigation.  



This kit encourages students to focus on the fascinating ‘backyard birds’ that share our schoolyard and neighborhood habitats.   In addition to a variety of lesson plan ideas, we’ve included class sets of kid friendly bird guides, feathers, binoculars plus a few fiction and non-fiction books. 



From the tiniest sidewalk crack to the slightly overgrown lawn, it’s hard to find a place where insect life doesn’t abound!   This kit includes lesson plan ideas, class sets of bug boxes, sweep nets and common insect identification guides, plus a few fiction and non-fiction read aloud books.



From the Private Eye Website:  The Private Eye is a program about the drama and wonder of looking closely at the world, thinking by analogy, changing scale and theorizing.  This kit includes the 'Private Eye' curriculum guide, activity sheets and a class set of jeweler's loupes.


Congratulations to our Forest Conservation Corps Alumni!


Thank you to the youth who participated in the 2023 Forest Conservation Corps. Your dedication and enthusiasm have made a huge difference to our partners and the Rensselaer County community. Our youth crews worked at Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center, John B. Staalesen Vanderheyden Preserve, Grafton Lakes State Park, Poestenkill Community Forest, Valentino Family Community Forest, and Albert Family Community Forest.

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