To help reconnect today's children to the outdoors, the National Wildlife Federation assists schools in developing outdoor classrooms called Schoolyard Habitats®, where educators and students learn how to attract and support local wildlife.
The National Wildlife Federation’s K-12, Nature Play, and Campus Ecology programs provide steps for creating habitat and outdoor classrooms at your place of learning, as well as showcasing how the habitat can be used for cross disciplinary learning.
Children in day care centers and preschools, nature centers, and thousands of students in grades K-12, along with parents, university students, teachers, administrators, community members, and volunteers have created unique habitat gardens and living learning laboratories nationwide.
These wildlife habitats become places where students not only learn about wildlife species and ecosystems, but also outdoor classrooms where they hone their academic skills and nurture their innate curiosity and creativity.
How Schoolyard Habitats® Got Its Start
National Wildlife Federation has encouraged individuals and communities to create and conserve wildlife habitat since 1973, when the Backyard Wildlife Habitat™ program (now called the Certified Wildlife Habitat® program) began.
In 1996, the Schoolyard Habitats® program was created to meet the growing interest and distinct needs of schools and school districts in creating and restoring wildlife habitat on school grounds. The program focuses specifically on assisting school communities in the use of school grounds as learning sites for wildlife conservation and cross-curricular learning.
Basic Steps to Creating a Schoolyard Habitat
1. Start a Habitat Team
The Habitat Team is composed of educators, students, parents, maintenance personnel, administrators and community volunteers. Every member of the team brings their own skills. Some will focus on how to garden, others might figure out what parts of the curriculum can be served by the wildlife habitat, or what animal visitors to expect.
2. Choose A Site
Let's get students and other team members to study and map out the potential garden. Everyone can participate by either writing or drawing:
- Physical elements (soil, topography, water sources, drainage patterns, sun and wind exposure),
- Ecological components (plants and animals, including insects),
- Human influences (buildings, sidewalks, playing fields, utility right-of-ways and asphalt areas),
- Boundaries (including nearby habitats).
It's also fun to learn about the history of your site. How was the land used before your students arrived? Students might interview long-time community residents and conduct other research.
When you choose your site, make sure it's great for wildlife and people. All wildlife requires food, water, cover, and places to reproduce and raise their young. Make it accessible for classes to use and for community members to visit.
3. Create a Work Plan
Careful planning will help your habitat project run smoothly. Elements like goals, task assignment, resource inventory, and tracking progress will divide and organize the workload into manageable steps.
4. Involve the Community
The creation of a schoolyard habitat is an excellent opportunity to reach out to the community members and invite their participation. To build support for your project, introduce your community to the contributions that the habitat site can make to enrich the school's educational offerings. The schoolyard habitat can be a benefit to the entire community as a public place for all to visit and enjoy.
You may find assistance in your community from a wide variety of sources:
- Landscape architects ready for a new challenge
- Local businesses willing to donate plants, landscape materials and expertise
- Garden and civic clubs excited to offer their knowledge and hands-on involvement.
5. Certify Your Schoolyard Habitat
When you're ready, complete our online application and add your habitat to the thousands of backyards, parks, businesses, and other schools that provide habitat for wildlife through National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat program.
These are but a few suggestions for making the link between your project and the community, be creative and don't be afraid to ask! The material contributions, in-kind support and resource connections will be invaluable to your project and will help strengthen school-community ties.
Schoolyard Habitats® is a registered trademark of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Chesapeake Office. National Wildlife Federation has permission to use the trademark Schoolyard Habitats® for its program.