Habitat gardening at school and at home
Fortunately, there are increasing resources available for teachers and schools who want to teach children about nature through gardening. (And check out the wealth of science and citizen science resources for kids.)
What struck me, though, is how many more school wildlife gardens there appear to be in the UK compared to the US. Why?
I suspect the most effective programs would be those that are tightly tied to the curriculum. They would be used the most, would most effectively achieve their goals, and, in the case of gardens, would be least likely to be "accidently" mowed down. In other words, the gardens outside the building would be as much a part of the school's mission as what happens inside the school building.
Part of the curriculum
Gardens are more than just extras niceties that are fun for children and teach a few things about nature. They provide obvious opportunities for teaching science and math. But they can be so much more than that!
They can be beautiful venues for music recitals or for performing plays. They can incorporate beautiful little places to read. They can be the source of exciting story starters for language arts. They provide beautiful subjects for art class. They're obvious places for holding physical education activities—the kind of activities that can be lifelong activities, rather than organized sports. (I myself was always interested in learning about exercise for health, but all they taught was sports, which was of no interest to me!!)
Special benefits for special kids
And for certain children, creating or preserving natural areas or growing delicious food may be one of the few times in school where they can be and feel successful. Skills they develop in the gardens may be the most useful of their school experiences and may even lead to a lifelong career.
Not every child is well-suited to book-learning and sitting in classrooms—not even all bright children!
And not all children are suited for the hustle and bustle of modern school settings. Contemplative children might benefit greatly from having a quiet space to retreat to sometimes.
Habitat gardening resources for parents
If your children's schools are failing to provide gardening experiences, here are two new books that can help you provide these experiences at home:
- A Child's Garden: 60 Ideas to Make Any Garden Come Alive for Children
- The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids: 101 Ways to Get Kids Outside, Dirty, and Having Fun by Whitney Cohen and John Fisher
Habitat gardening resources for schools
I've listed science and citizen science for children here, but these are some of the resources about gardening for kids:
- Wild Ones: Seeds for Education program. Not only does this website provide information and links to other resources, but it also awards grants to help good projects get started.
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology: BirdSleuth K-12's School Gardens for the Birds
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - excellent resources!:
- Schoolyard Habitat: Stewardship through Action, including a video.
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Schoolyard Habitat Project Guide - a planning guide for creating schoolyard habitat and outdoor classroom projects (2nd edition, 2011)
- Original US Fish & Wildlife Service: Schoolyard Habitat Project Guide
- Council for Environmental Education:
- Project WILD - one of the most widely-used wildlife-focused conservation education program for K-12 educators and their students
- Growing up WILD: Exploring Nature with Young Children - the preschool resources complement of Project WILD
- U. S. Botanic Garden and Chicago Botanic Garden: The School Garden Wizard isn't restricted to habitat gardening (or even vegetable gardening), but this website has some practical ideas for creating and learning in the garden. Please choose the native plant/wildlife garden options, though!
- National Wildlife Federation:
- The Schoolyard Habitat Movement
- Academic benefits of schoolyard habitats, including inspirational stories
- Schoolyard habitats
- How-to Guide for Schoolyard Habitats
- Access Nature curriculum guide for grades K-8 - An inclusive curriculum for grades K-8 offering more than 60 hours of hands-on, habitat-based activities, Access Nature can be enjoyed by all audiences, including students with disabilities. ($)
- Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education: Schoolyard Habitat - links to a large number of resources
- D. C. Environmental Education Consortium: D.C. Schoolyard Greening - a variety of resources
- Washington Native Plant Society: Middle School Native Plant Habitat Garden Restoration Project
- California Native Plant Society: School Gardens and Native Plants
- University of Saskatchewan: Growing a Natural Habitat Garden at Your School
- Kirkbymoorside Community Primary School: Creating a school wildlife garden: This 16-minute video shows what a school in England has done.
Gardens for pollinators and butterflies
Why focus on pollinators and/or butterflies? Butterflies appeal to most everyone, of course, and other pollinators such as our native bees are extremely important for the health of our world and for our own food supplies. Kids need to learn to appreciate pollinators!
- Pollinator Partnership:
- A variety of educational resources are available on this page. Especially good is the resource Nature's Partners: Pollinators, Plants, and You - A Comprehensive pollinator curriculum for Grades 3 - 6
- Bee Smart School Garden Kit from Pollinator Partnership - designed for Grades 3 - 6
- USDA and other partners: Pollinator LIVE - A distance learning adventure for grades 4 to 8; a variety of materials including webcasts, gardening resources, videos, and more
Edible school gardens
Alice Waters: The Edible Schoolyard - Alice Waters is a pioneer in this field. They offer many resources such as Making Mathematics Delicious for middle school for example.
Book: How to Grow a School Garden: A Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers by Arden Bucklin-Sporer and Rachel Kathleen Pringle ($)
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture: School Gardens from Urban Agriculture Notes published by City Farmer, an interesting series of programs