At a School

Photo © Seattle Municipal Archives

While there is a great need for bird conservation at local, state, regional, national, and global scales, we don’t want young people to get discouraged by the size of the task. We believe in talking about conservation with an emphasis on young people’s ability to make a positive impact. We should aim to help students understand habitats and bird migration, and also empower them to see themselves as part of the solution for bird conservation. Creating school gardens is an activity to encourage students to think critically about conservation issues in their own area, and how to proactively address them. Making your garden a part of a citizen science project only increases its impact for students and your community.

Chris Hearn Ryeish Green School

Photo © Chris Hearn

Schools have a history of being heavily landscaped by unimaginative lawn. Kids need lawn, to run, to play, to participate in sports programs, but if you start looking, we’ll bet you will notice there are some corners of your campus planted as lawn, that could easily become something more wildlife-friendly without getting in the way of lawn-centric activities. Read on for some tips about how to get started and connect with the Habitat Network community.

Jerry Wong School Garden-smaller

Photo © Jerry Wong

Consider joining over 500 schools who have joined the Habitat Network

There are many ways this tool is applicable to school use, here are some ideas:

  • Planning a new school garden? One way to get students thinking about “planning gardens” is to create a map of the existing school yard. This information can then inform new garden development.
  • Map your school Many students don’t know all the interesting areas of their school grounds. You could take exploratory walks and have students take notes on your school property and then come back to the classroom and map! This could be a great interdisciplinary lesson.
  • Map your community This tool can be introduced to teach students how to map their own homes. Then, you can track your community as individual habitat maps pop-up around your city using the groups tool.
  • Change over time. Perhaps you have long-term plans for engaging your students in developing gardens on campus? The Habitat Network can be put to use to document that process over time. Each year, as new projects are underway, the next group of students can analyze old maps to inform new projects.
  • Analyzing Choices. This could take many forms and integrate into many lessons. Students could view existing habitat maps and engage in analysis of the habitat, noting what was done well, what wasn’t, and culminate in a set of recommendations to improve the ecological functioning of the site in question.
Backwards planning

Photo © aretefatica

“Backwards Planning”
When thinking about curriculum units, teachers often reflect on the end product and then “backwards plan” from there. This same approach can be effective when planning your school gardens. Think about the end result. What do you want to accomplish with your garden? Do you want to teach students about native plants? Do you want to attract birds? Do you want to grow vegetables for the school snack program? Answers to these questions will focus your planning efforts. It will be helpful to think in stages. Many gardens take years to develop. So, start with the simplest project, the lowest hanging fruit, and grow from there. Often, when a school community sees the success of one small garden project, they direct more time, resources and volunteers towards future projects. This will be helpful as your garden projects become larger and more elaborate, requiring more hands in the dirt.

Creating Relationships

Photo © Gregory Hauenstein

School gardens will require relationships with many members of your school community. Administrators as allies will be key. They will be crucial in promoting and supporting the project, but also in helping to get the facility personnel on-board. People often find it is important to work closely with maintenance staff at the school, who may initially be concerned that additional work will be added to their already full plates with the addition of a garden. Consulting with them early on in the planning phase will help to guarantee positive rapport and alleviate anxieties about added responsibilities. Students, parents and volunteers will quickly emerge, committed to the gardens and willing to maintain them–perhaps even leaving the facility personnel with less landscape to mow.

Mulching for Summer

Photo © hardworkinghippy

Summer maintenance is another area of concern that will be raised early-on. Solutions to this issue will be school specific. For example, some schools are in session year round, and the longest time they will be away from the grounds is a month. In this case, just ensuring you have provided ample mulching and watering before break will allow your plants to thrive while school is on recess. For schools that are closed June through August or September, more creative solutions will be required. There may be students, parents or faculty that live close to the school that want to tend the garden all summer. Or, perhaps you’ve decided to plant things that don’t require much mid-summer work–like native wildflowers, fruit trees or shrubs, winter squash, potatoes, or onions. Your only concern will be adequate water, and solutions to this will depend on your bioregion. In areas that get relatively consistent summer rains, just mulching your gardens before summer (with straw, wood chips and/or grass clippings) should keep enough moisture in the ground that you won’t need to worry about watering. If you live in a dry area, you may have to invest in a simple watering system. The easy answer is, IT CAN BE DONE! You’ll just need to backwards plan and discuss options with your school community.

Breck School PreK-12

Photo © YardMap

Breck School has made conserving natural space a priority for their learning community. They have a newly planted native plants garden, two wetland areas for wildlife, duck and swallow bird houses, and green roofs! For more inspiration, visit their habitat map.

Rockland Community College

Photo © YardMap

Rockland Community College has created a detailed map of their college campus and encouraged students to map their places of residence as well. Their exemplary features include a large swath of temperate deciduous forest, a community garden on campus and a variety of trees scattered around campus. To learn more, visit their habitat map.

Wambilicious School Garden

Photo © Wambilicious

The potential for interdisciplinary crossover may be the best part of a school garden! Every grade level and subject area can find some way to use the gardens in their classroom learning. Students can quantify, ask questions, study, write, photo document, experiment, measure, weigh, design, plan, build, exercise, draw, describe, share, read, analyze, deduce, and more, in a garden classroom. All of these skills are a part of many subject areas. Let us help you imagine the connections between mandated curriculum and your school garden. Below are numerous resources available online and in books. Your students have everything to gain by having a school garden.

Harlem Park School Community Garden

Photo © Friends of West Baltimore

NEW From BirdSleuth

HM Pic

Photo © Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Habitat Network Citizen Science Curriculum
This download includes:
Lesson 7
Habitat Matters-BirdSleuth
Map Your School Yard

by Nancy M. Trautmann, Jennifer Fee, and Jennifer Goforth

BirdSleuth K-12: A Cornell Lab of Ornithology curriculum focused on bringing citizen science into the classroom.

Grow to Learn NYC: A NYC wide initiative to bring school gardens to every public school.

Life Lab: A resource for teachers and parents on creating gardens with children.

Edutopia: Edible School Yard: Berkeley CA: A video documenting the work being done in one Berkeley elementary school, where the garden is a central feature of their curriculum.

The Collective School Garden Network: This site is in development but will provide curriculum ideas based on topic for educators.

Gardens ABC: Another site for education resources around gardening with youth.

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(This is the same username you use to sign-in to eBird, the Habitat Network, Celebrate Urban Birds, FeederWatch, NestWatch, Maccaulay Library)