Learning Conservation Outside the Classroom


While it seems counterintuitive, students can learn the most when they’re not at a desk. And that’s the mission of the Schoolyard Habitat Program — to teach students about the outdoors, while outdoors.

Hands-on learning is the name of the game here, with students and educators working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assist students in restoring the natural landscapes around or nearby their schools.

If my teachers had brought me outside to learn when I was in grade school, I know I would have been paying attention — partly because it’d be impossible to read a book under my desk if I was walking in the woods, but mostly because being outside and actually witnessing the plants and animals you’re learning about is a tremendous boon to kids.

And to further assist anyone — teachers, parents, students, community leaders, whoever — that wants to learn more about the program, the Service has launched a new website. Check it out here.

Not only are students in New Haven actively working to create or restore patches of habitat for wildlife, the program teaches the value of conservation — something that’s difficult to teach indoors. But by getting their hands dirty and seeing the results of their work, students in the Schoolyard Habitat Program can learn about plants and animals they may find in their backyards while actually engaging with the habitat around them in a practical way.


Students, educators and Service biologists work together to improve patches of habitat around schoolyards. Credit: USFWS

The focus of the newly-launched website, the Schoolyard Habitat Program is located around the Long Island Sound area in Connecticut, and is focuses on initiatives by urban students. This area is typical of many in the Northeast — urban, developed and densely populated. Even in the midst of the urban landscape of southern Connecticut, restored patches of habitat are critical stop-overs for wildlife, as well as filtering water for pollution before it reaches Long Island Sound.

Through technical assistance and the help of biologists, this Program is a partnership between the Service, Audubon Connecticut and the EPA Long Island Sound Study.

“The schoolyard habitat program helps create areas on school grounds that are ecologically significant, integrated into the student’s curriculum and helps promote lifelong, long-term stewardship,” says Georgia Basso, wildlife biologist and liaison to the Long Island Sound Study.


Not only does important habitat get restored, but students learn about nature through proximity, not via textbooks. Credit: USFWS.

This schoolyard habitat joins other habitats created throughout the Northeast, such as at Dunloggin Middle School, as well as others in the Chesapeake Bay region. At Dunloggin, students worked with the Service’s Chesapeake Bay field office to create a half-mile of nature trails and a riparian wetland to reduce surface runoff, earning the school aMaryland Green School certification and National Wildlife Federation habitat certification. In 2012, Browns River Middle School in Vermont participated in the Schoolyard Habitat Program, where studentsplanted approximately 400 native trees and shrubs to increase wildlife habitat and provide a better buffer of forest for the river.

It’s hard to understate the importance of establishing a connection with nature at a young age. And with the Schoolyard Habitat Program, educators can help students make that connection.

Originally posted on Conserving the Nature of the Northeast.