When Kathy Miller's first through fifth graders in Greenville, SC, set out on a spring safari, they were hunting for evidence of animal life in their school garden.
"One of the first sightings my students made were the thousands of ladybugs that seemed to flock to certain garden plants, such as sedum and rudbeckia," reports Kathy. Her keen observers readily hooked by these endearing garden residents, Kathy began a yearlong study of the complex dramas that unfold in a schoolyard ecosystem.
"As I reviewed my mix of incoming fifth graders representing a wide range of motivation levels and abilities, I struggled to figure out how best to meet their diverse needs," says Junia Norris from Whitefield, ME. A collaborative garden project, she mused, might just draw on students' talents and interests and address state teaching and learning goals.
When middle-school students in Greenwood, AR, set out to create a schoolyard habitat and outdoor classroom, they knew four habitat components were essential: food, water, shelter, and places to raise young. But with no water source in sight, their vision could have dried right up.
To solve their problem, the young stewards decided to create their own pond, bog, and waterfall. A donated liner, a submersible pump, lots of elbow grease, and a gift of rocks from a contractor helped bring their 3,000-gallon pond to fruition.
"Too often children are asked to save the whales, the rainforest, the Earth," says habitat educator Judith Levicoff from the Philadelphia area. "Although they're all important issues, they are overwhelming concepts to a child. Children live in the moment and need immediate results for their efforts. Butterfly gardens are a way that kids of all ages can think globally and act locally."
Wildflowers in a can would be the last thing a group of fourth graders in Clinton, WI, would plant in their schoolyard. They've set their sights on the return of the natives, the tallgrass prairies, that, says teacher Kim Lowman Vollmer, are more endangered than the rainforest.
A passion for preserving habitat for feathered friends inspired Elizabeth Jensen's K-5 students in Gunnison, UT, to dig into trees and shrubs. With their sights set on learning about birds' habitat requirements, they became keen observers, beginning with a hunt for bird nests.
Welcoming butterflies and caterpillars to your school garden
Eve Pranis, for NGA
Growing plants that attract butterflies is a sure-fire way of engaging children in the school garden, and it invites discoveries about pollination, insect life cycles, and the interdependence of insects and plants. The first step is understanding the different stages the butterfly life cycle.
Kids Gardening and the National Gardening Association actively work with schools and communities across the country to provide educational resources and build gardens to promote health, wellness, and sustainability.