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School Programs
Frequently Asked Questions

What is the History of Ozark Natural Science Center? 


You can watch a video about ONSC's history here. Beginning in 1989, a small group of individuals, guided by Ken and RuAnn Ewing of Rogers, started meeting with the single purpose of developing a concept plan for a residential field science center in the Arkansas Ozarks.  Those early planning sessions resulted in Ozark Natural Science Center (ONSC), which was incorporated in 1990.  ONSC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit field science/environmental education and conference facility, which hosted its first residential program in 1992: a two-week Wet’n Wild camp that was part of the Arkansas Enrichment for the Gifted (AEGIS) program of the Arkansas Department of Education.

What Does an ONSC School Program Look Like?


ONSC offers a unique, immersion-based approach to learning about nature and the natural sciences.  Every year, approximately 3,000 students from public and private schools experience the beauty and unique biodiversity of the Ozarks' natural environment through our residential school program. During a typical 2-day visit, 15 hours of science curriculum are provided in the form of 3 separate hikes (both day & night) and 2 sit-down type classes (topics chosen by their teacher) that are also designed to be fun.  Outdoor classrooms cover stream habitats, fluvial dynamics, macro invertebrates, snake defenses, owls of the Ozarks, woodland mammals, insect defense mechanisms, salamander families, plant identification, water quality testing, frog calls and geologic processes/rock identification.  There is also campfire time, with a Lorax enactment, and T-shirt and wildflower seed presentations.  Four family-style meals are served, where students are educated in conservation, food insecurity, and where their food comes from, in addition to snack and recreation breaks.


What is ONSC's Adult to Student Ratio?

Overnight programs consist of 1 adult to 7 students with field groups of 14 which is our maximum number. Our average number of 12 students would be a 1:6 ratio.

Can Students Go on Similar Field Trips Elsewhere?

Not in Arkansas! There are no other residential natural science educational facilities in Arkansas, much less one with OSNC's staff knowledge and thirty years of experience teaching students.  ONSC is the only year-round residential environmental education facility in the state and serves the four-county NW Arkansas region, as well as occasionally hosting children from the NE Oklahoma area, Chicago, and other areas of Arkansas.  ONSC’s Teacher Naturalists have backgrounds and advanced degrees ranging from aquatic resources to botany to zoology, in addition to training and certifications in wilderness safety and first aid, and have published research on numerous relevant subjects. 

What if a Student is Nervous? Do Students Gain Confidence and Self-Reliance During an ONSC Trip?


While students are supported by our Teacher Naturalists and other staff throughout their stay, they learn self-reliance from the minute they carry their overnight supplies to their lodges to the last lunch meal in our dining hall where they assist with clean-up before boarding their buses and returning to school.  The most memorable experiences upon the trails in self-reliance include the night hike and the five minute solo hike portion of their morning hike. They leave with an increased sense of self confidence and trust in their abilities to both learn and explore the world around them.


Are Parent Chaperones Assigned to the Same Field Group as Their Child(ren)?


During a school program at Ozark Natural Science Center (ONSC), parent chaperones often accompany the school group. It is ONSC’s general policy to assign parents to different field groups than their child(ren). This helps chaperones to treat all of the students in their group equally, and also enables all students to experience the independence of learning alongside their peers from ONSC’s Teacher Naturalists.  In addition to providing hands-on, science-based education, OSNC field trips enable children to learn autonomy and resilience, both of which are vital life skills and cause many students to leave ONSC with even greater self esteem than when they arrived.  ONSC makes exceptions to this policy on a case-by-case basis when it is in the best interest of the child or the group for a parent chaperone to be paired with their child.


How do students learn about food at ONSC?


ONSC has provided students with hands-on, experiential learning experiences that can enhance their understanding of the natural world and the impacts they have on it.  Through the Food for Thought lessons, they grasp an understanding of the vast amount of energy that goes into putting food on the table for their nourishment and why it is important not to waste that food/energy.


Do Teachers Get CEU Hours for Coming to ONSC?

Yes! ONSC provides the opportunity to earn 10 CEU hours for teacher's professional development.  ONSC provides a unique opportunity for teachers to gain CEU hours and get a break from teaching while ONSC Teacher Naturalists lead the lessons for two days. Meanwhile, the students are able to grasp tangible scientific concepts and have an experience that will influence them for the rest of their lives, .


What are ONSC's Campus and Trails like?

ONSC is situated within the 400-acre Bear Hollow Natural Area and a part of the 15,000 acres of wilderness in rural Madison County, Arkansas.  The campus includes three rustic lodges, indoor and outdoor classrooms, guest housing, faculty housing, an observation deck and nearly 8 miles of maintained hiking trails.  An ADA trail is currently being constructed and will increase our total mileage to over 8 miles upon completion.


Does ONSC have an Accessible Trail?


Yes!  Most of our educational activities take place on the 8 miles of hiking trails surrounding our campus. As we are located in the hills of Bear Hollow, most of our trails have steep or rocky portions that are difficult to traverse without full physical function. 


In 2021 and 2022, ONSC built a new accessible trail, which serves any of our visitors and students, and is targeted toward those who need a more accessible route. Per the CDC, 18% of the population has difficulty walking or climbing steps. Using these numbers, we anticipate that at least 800 visitors and students per year can make use of our accessible trail.


The trail includes diverse ecosystems to maximize our ability to provide education opportunities along the trail, including the forest around the observation deck, meadow, wetland, and pond. The trail also adjoins with our Tyson Lodge to make it possible for overnight students and other guests to access these new educational opportunities as well.


The accessible trail can be navigated by an all-terrain wheelchair or an all-terrain rolling walker, as well as most motorized wheelchairs.


School programs that utilize the accessible trail may also incorporate pieces of ONSC’s class topics and classroom materials, including portions of the following classes: Creek Critters, Decomposition, Discovery of the Specimens, Herpetology, Ornithology, FrogWatch, Entomology, and Botany.

What is the Best Age Group for a School Program at ONSC?

4th through 6th grade is the opportune time to enhance the positive interaction with the natural world. One of the most important steps in the maturation process of children in today’s world is an appreciation of and caring for the natural environment.  But, according to Sir David Attenborough, “No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.”[i]  This point touches on the importance of “hands-on” learning, a hallmark of ONSC’s efforts over the last 30 years.  Additionally, based on research, only adults who have interacted with nature as a child will be likely to protect the environment.  Bird posited in his Natural Thinking (2007)[ii] report for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds:

"The critical age appears to be before the age of 12 years.  Before this age contact with nature in all its forms, but in particular wild nature, appears to strongly influence a positive behavior towards the environment." (p. 55)

Most of our educational efforts have focused on 4th through 6th graders because years of researched information from organizations like Scholastic[iii], Today’s Parent[iv] and Common Sense Media[v] have informed parents and educators that these are the years children begin to form their own opinions, show compassion for others - humans and animals, are able to discern right from wrong and seek to find the identity that will accompany them into adulthood.  We want to help them develop a sense of place and wonder within our natural world, celebrate ecological and cultural diversity, enhance their understanding of the importance of the natural systems around us, foster conservation and stewardship, and impart those insights to future generations.


How Do You Measure Whether ONSC Programs are Effective?

Initial outcomes of the program are that the pre-teens have learned valuable experiential lessons regarding field science in an immersion-based approach which they would not normally have access to in a brick-and-mortar school building.  Some intermediate outcomes, in many cases, may be that they have gained a better understanding of habitat systems, ecology and the prudent use of natural resources.  Exposure to high-quality and stimulating activities, with participation in field collections/testing and encouraged argument-driven inquiries and open discussions, improves the way a child learns.  Having direct experience of the subject helps it to become more interesting and enhances understanding.  In some cases, they may improve their emotional resilience and become better equipped to assess risk.  For many of this population's under-served children, it is their first night spent away from home.  Longer term outcomes are the lasting impressions made on the students by the program, as evidenced by testimonials received over the years from adults who went through the program as area children. A report in the National Foundation for Educational Research (2005)[i] concluded that children having an increased contact with nature experience improvements in self-perceptions, social actions, communication skills and leadership.  The Moss report6 also found that children who learn outdoors know more, understand more, behave better, feel better, are physically healthier, and work more cooperatively.



[i] Speech to Communicate Conference, 2010.

[ii] Bird, W., PhD (2007). Natural Thinking. Sandy, UK: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

[iii] Anthony, M., PhD (2020, February 4). Social Development in Pre-Teens: What You Need to Know.

Retrieved from Scholastic:

[iv] Langford, S. (2020, January 11). 30 things kids should know how to do by 12. Retrieved from Today's


[v] Common Sense Media (2020, February 4). What's Going On at Age 10-12? Retrieved from Common

Sense Media:

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