A creature's habitat is a place where individuals of that species or type can usually be found. It contains all the components the organism needs to survive.
At the most basic level, all wildlife require food, water, shelter from predators and the elements, and safe places to raise their young. Consider asking your students to brainstorm and create a list of things humans need to survive. Then try creating a list for other animals and one for plants. How do the lists compare?
"When our new school was built, my fourth, fifth, and sixth graders were drawn to the birds and other wildlife that gathered in the wetland areas in the schoolyard," says Montessori teacher Penny Szczechowski from Ann Arbor, MI. So when the idea of creating a garden came up, they knew they wanted theirs to be a place where wildlife could come to find shelter, water, food, and places to raise young.
The school's name, Grandview U'uqinak'uuh Community School, reflects the region's rich cultural heritage. Now, the "Spirit of Nature" schoolyard proudly does the same. Graduate education student Illene Pevec and landscape architecture student Tracy Penner brought together students, parents, teachers, and community members to turn an underused, muddy, 1-acre field into a multigenerational, award-winning garden that celebrates and preserves local cultural history.
Six-legged garden creatures sparked such curiosity for Karen Armistead's first graders in Apopka, FL, that they were a natural science focus. But a requirement that students create writing portfolios prompted Karen and the school media specialist to think even more broadly.
"We decided to use the garden as the context for their writing and reading by developing a six-week unit on plant/insect interactions," explains Karen.
"Kids need to know how scientists work, so my students spend time observing, drawing, and using tools such as magnifying lenses, viewing boxes and microscopes to extend their senses," reports teacher Libby Rhoden from Pasadena, TX. Their current focus? The insects in and around the milkweed bushes they planted to nourish butterfly larvae.
"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.
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.
"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."