Throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, teachers and students are getting their feet wet and hands dirty as part of their curriculum. They’re creating wetlands, meadows and woodlands in their schoolyards.

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 16 million people living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, there is less room for wildlife. Here’s where students and educators can help.

Schoolyards are a valuable resource when it comes to restoring natural areas.

In the state of Maryland alone, there are 6,000 acres of unused turf on schoolyards. These acres can be restored for wildlife by planting a variety of native plants.

In many cases, these schoolyard habitats also provide a vegetative buffer to nearby streams, reducing pollution reaching these waterways.

Schoolyard habitat projects turn barren land into lively natural areas that can support waterfowl, songbirds, small mammals, frogs, turtles, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

More than wildlife benefits 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 unique hands-on learning experience right outside their classroom.

During the formative years of life, 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.

Children who attend schools with natural landscape features develop a much different perception of what the landscape should look like, one that coincides with conservation of natural environments.

The management of our natural resources will one day be in the hands of these students. By instilling knowledge and a sense of stewardship now, the future of both people and wildlife is looking brighter.

Schoolyard Habitat Program

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Schoolyard Habitat Program was developed to help educators and interested communities with habitat projects.

The program assists schools by providing technical assistance and project guidance; training educators in planning and creating a schoolyard habitat; developing educational resources; and working with education agencies to incorporate habitats into new school construction and renovation projects

Here are a few of the upcoming Schoolyard Habitat workshops and events:

  • Teacher Workshops: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 18 & 19. Patuxent Research Refuge’s National Wildlife Visitor Center in Laurel, MD. Learn how to create and maintain meadows, wetlands and forests on a schoolyard or community center. Discover the variety of lessons that can be taught to students by using a new schoolyard habitat as a teaching tool.
  • Schoolyard Habitat Provider Summit: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 31 at Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center in Millersville, MD. Through hands-on session and panel discussions, this networking opportunity will help anyone interested in learning more about how they can become involved in schoolyard habitats in their community.
  • Volunteer Opportunities: 4–7 p.m. Sept. 24, Oct. 22 & Nov. 19 at Patuxent Research Refuge’s National Wildlife Visitor Center in Laurel, MD. Be a part of creating a demonstration meadow, wetland or forest area at Patuxent Research Refuge. Come join the “Weedy Wednesdays” series.

For information or to register or any of these events, please contact: Karen Kelly, Schoolyard Habitat Program at habitatkelly@yahoo.com or 410-271-2481