It may still be winter but throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, teachers and students are already planning for an exciting spring.

They are preparing to transform unused spaces on their schoolyards into wetlands, meadows and woodlands for use by wildlife, students and local communities.

These natural areas are used as habitat for local and migratory wildlife. Habitat is the collective term for the food, water, shelter and nursery areas that animals need to survive.

The loss of habitat is one of the greatest threats facing wildlife today. With 17 million people living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, there is less room for wildlife.

Benefits to Wildlife & the Environment

Schoolyards are a valuable resource when it comes to restoring natural areas. These acres can be restored for wildlife by planting a variety of native plants.

In many cases, schoolyard habitats also provide a vegetative buffer to nearby streams, reducing the amount of pollution reaching these waterways. Schoolyard habitat projects turn barren land into lively areas that can support waterfowl, songbirds, small mammals, frogs, turtles, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

Benefits to Teachers & Students

Wildlife isn’t only thing to benefit from schoolyard habitats. These natural areas double as outdoor laboratories, helping to teach lessons in mathematics, science, English, social studies, geography and art.

The process of planning, creating and using a habitat project provides children with a hands-on learning experience right outside their classroom.

Creating a Sense of Stewardship

During their formative years, students develop perceptions and values about their environment. If designed and managed properly, schoolyards can provide students with a powerful example of good land stewardship.

Management of our natural resources will one day be in the hands of these students. By instilling a sense of stewardship now, the futures of both people and wildlife are looking brighter.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has been assisting schools in creating schoolyard habitats for more than 20 years. Recently, the Learning Landscapes Partnership was formed by the Maryland Association of Environmental and Outdoor Education and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Bay Education and Training Program. The partnership will develop a comprehensive approach to create wildlife habitats and conservation landscaping projects. The Learning Landscapes Partnership builds on a previously successful Maryland Schoolyard Habitat Partnership with MAEOE and NOAA.

Here are some of the resources available to help schools and communities:

  • Common Qualities of Excellent Schoolyard Habitats: Excellent schoolyard habitats improve the community’s environmental health by reducing stormwater runoff, solving erosion problems and increasing biodiversity. They also provide opportunities for children to interact, both formally and informally, with the natural world.

    To help guide communities in creating excellent schoolyard habitats, the leaders in the schoolyard habitat partnership identified these common qualities: ecological significance (replicating native habitat and reducing stormwater); curriculum integration (using the schoolyard habitat as a tool to achieve learning goals in several subjects); and long-term community connection (offering opportunities for exploration by the community at large).

    Not all schoolyard habitat projects are expected to meet all of these qualities at their inception, but to develop them over time. Common Qualities of Excellent Schoolyard Habitats are goals to help people rethink the communal uses of green space.
  • Toolkits for Schools & Communities: Across the Chesapeake Bay region, communities are looking to maximize the ecological potential of their community spaces. Toolkits were developed to help school and community leaders access the best available resources to create excellent schoolyard habitat and conservation landscaping projects.

    The Schoolyard Habitat Program Development Toolkit: This kit is designed to assist environmental education program providers, teachers and schools in developing sustainable, integrated schoolyard habitat projects.

    The Toolkit for Conservation Landscaping for Community Spaces provides a framework for project designers to achieve a balance between ecologically significant landscaping and community engagement.
  • Schoolyard Habitat Guide: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Schoolyard Habitat Guide is a how-to manual. It takes teachers and their students through each step of the schoolyard habitat creation process including planning, installing and sustaining a schoolyard habitat. This is not a book about why schoolyard habitat projects are important; this is a guide about how to make the best schoolyard habitat for a site.

Common Qualities of Excellent Schoolyard Habitats, Schoolyard Habitat Program Development Toolkit, Toolkit for Conservation Landscaping for Community Spaces and Schoolyard Habitat Guide can be downloaded from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Chesapeake Bay Field Office Schoolyard Habitat Program at www.fws.gov/chesapeakebay/schoolyd.html.

For information, contact: Karen Kelly Mullin at www.willowoakgroup.com or 410-271-2481.