A Case for Schoolyard Habitats
Schools across the country are making room for wildlife. Jungle gyms, kick-ball fields, and flag poles now share the schoolyard with wetlands, nature trails, and butterfly gardens. Why are these areas included in the school landscape? How are these habitats developed? Who benefits?
Why schoolyard habitats?
Schoolyard habitats are not a wave of the future, but rather a product of the past and present. Learning and teaching in the outdoors is certainly not a new notion, and employing wildlife management principles in an effort to conserve habitat is not revolutionary. The combination of these two driving forces, however, leads to a rather unique project implemented within school communities -- schoolyard habitats. Creating suitable habitat for wildlife by providing the four essential habitat components -- food, water, cover, and places to raise young -- on school grounds allows students, teachers, and community members to take action for wildlife and youngsters of all ages.
Habitat degradation and loss is the major threat to wildlife populations across the country, and around the globe. Learning and understanding the issues and principles associated with the causes and consequences of habitat loss and species population decline, as well as effective means to make positive changes, is at the core of National Wildlife Federation's Schoolyard Habitats project. A schoolyard habitat is a tangible product with nearly immediate results -- youngsters can observe and compare the amount and variety of wildlife visiting their schoolyard after, and prior to, their work in developing a schoolyard wildlife habitat. This sends a clear message; we are able to take positive action for our environment, in our community. From the ecosystem perspective, habitats developed on school grounds may provide valuable connections, or corridors, to larger, intact habitats. Through this learning process, youngsters, teachers, administrators, and community participants develop a sense of ecological awareness, stewardship, and "big picture" thinking.
How to develop?
It is glaringly obvious that education is equally as important as habitat conservation in the planning, planting, and maintenance of a schoolyard habitat. From the initial stages, and throughout the entire process, students and teachers will be challenged by questions that seem "unanswerable". Research will uncover most answers, but those sure-to-have "stumpers" allow for easy introduction and integration of community partners. These people will become your greatest allies, most necessary ingredient, and most useful resource in the development and success of your schoolyard habitat. Questions may range from, "How do we pay for plant materials and supplies?" to "What would be appropriate to plant in these conditions?" To answer some of these questions, tap into local businesses for financial support, ask local master gardeners for assistance, and question local historians about the previous land uses of your schoolyard site.
Who benefits? The questions and answers uncovered will not be restricted to a single subject area. As a result, schoolyard habitats open themselves up to being incredible resources for teaching and learning across the curriculum. The site can be thought of as a new resource for on-site field trips and is perfectly suited for exploration by eager, investigative minds who may be stifled by the traditional indoor classroom setting.
Developing wildlife habitat on school grounds goes beyond wildlife habitat conservation. It reaches into the school curriculum and the community. Wildlife, kids, and the entire school community receive the benefits. Development of a habitat-based learning site takes steps to restore the native plant and animal community, our connection with the natural environment, and school/community ties.
This article was written by Sara Griffen, Past Coordinator of the Schoolyard Habitats® project.
It was originally published in Pennsylvania Forests, Fall 1997.