Who Lives in Our Garden?

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Students explore the garden to discover the creatures that call it home.


  • Observation journals
  • Variety of animal and plant field guides or access to the Internet


Although you can design a special habitat to attract target wildlife such as birds or butterflies, organisms of all shapes and sizes reside happily in more typical schoolyard gardens. The most obvious residents are your plants, but gardens are home to many living creatures, including fungi, worms, insects, and small animals.

The garden is a wonderful ecosystem for kids to study. Students can learn about life cycles, population diversity, and interdependence of species through practical, hands-on experiences and activities. To study the complex web of relationships found in a garden, students must begin by identifying its residents. 

Laying the Groundwork

Ask students, What organisms do you think live in a garden? Accept and write all answers on the blackboard or chart paper. Ask, How can we check our list?


Take the class on a field trip to the schoolyard garden to complete a wildlife checklist or inventory. Before heading outside, remind students to:
- Respect all life in the garden. Observe living creatures with your eyes, not your hands.
- Write down or draw as many details as possible.
- Remember to look in the soil and under leaves and rocks.

Depending on the age and skill level of your students you can conduct this activity from various angles. For example:

- Create a pictorial checklist of plants and animals very young students are likely to find in your garden, such as spiders, worms, butterflies, plants, squirrels, birds, and pill bugs. Ask the children to place a check mark or sticker on each picture when they spot that creature or plant. 

- Develop a simple written checklist of organisms or make it more advanced for older students. For example, list "birds" for younger students but list specific birds, such as "robin," "blue jay" or "sparrow," for older students. Your local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office may have a list for your area, or click here for a sample checklist from New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

- To encourage more detailed exploration, have students take an inventory of your garden, recording the type of species and how many of each they find. Have young students draw pictures of these creatures in a journal. Back in the classroom, help them use field guides to identify those creatures. If possible, take digital photographs for greater accuracy. Have older students use field guides to identify species in the garden and keep notes about each in their journals.

- For advanced explorations, have your class map the schoolyard, noting the different habitat elements found -- plants that provide food, water sources, shelter, etc. As they create their maps of the garden, they should also record the information and their observations in journals. When you return to the classroom, have students use field guides or the Internet to identify creatures and plants they found. Then initiate an in-depth discussion about the habitat needs of each organism.

Digging Deeper

To conclude the activity, make a list of the organisms the class found in the garden and compare it to the list from Laying the Groundwork. Possible discussion questions might include:

  • What did you find in the garden that you expected to see? What surprised you?
  • How many different types of organism did we find?
  • How might garden plants attract the creatures you saw nearby?
  • How might the plants benefit from the creatures? How might certain creatures benefit from certain plants? Does anyone know a word that describes these kinds of relationships? (Interdependence)
  • What could we do to increase the number of creatures living in our garden?

Branching Out

- Write stories about the garden from the perspective of one of its newly identified residents.

- Use your findings to create a field guide specific to your schoolyard garden. 

- Compare the garden ecosystem to another area of the school (a lawn, playground, wooded area). Use similar methods to gather information about the new ecosystem and compare the types and numbers of organisms to those found in your garden. Ask students to theorize on similarities and differences.

- Use your inventory or checklist to create a scavenger hunt. For example: Find a plant that attracts butterflies.  -- a flower that would appeal to a pollinator with a long tongue.  -- a plant with fuzzy leaves. -- a leaf-eating insect.

- Invite a local naturalist or wildlife expert to give a guest presentation about wildlife in your area. Based on their own school garden discoveries, have students prepare some questions for the speaker in advance.

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