The following is a list of habitat features that increase
habitat diversity and attract more wildlife. Also included are amenities
that can help make outdoor learning areas more interesting or useable.
An ideal time to incorporate these features is during the planning process
for new school construction or renovation projects. Most of these can
also be added to an existing site.
Logs - Rotting logs are habitat
for many insects, salamanders and small mammals. Logs can be used to learn
about the process of decay and the life associated with it. Logs can be
placed in any of the habitat types or anywhere else on the playground.
Partially submerged logs in wetlands or ponds provide a place for turtles
and frogs to sun.
Snags - Standing
dead trees or snags provide nest sites for cavity nesting birds including
woodpeckers, chickadees and many more. Many insect live in snags which
attract a variety of birds. Predatory birds perch on snags for a better
view of prey.
Brushpiles. Brushpiles provide excellent cover for rabbits, chipmunks,
skunks, small birds, and insects. Place brushpiles in woodlands and along
wooded edges. Discarded Christmas trees can be used as a brushpile.
Water - If there is not room for
a wetland or pond, consider a way to provide water for wildlife. A half
barrel or a cement mixing trough filled with water works well. If the
soil has enough clay, simply dig a few shallow holes and let the rain
fill them. Dripping water into a puddle is irresistible to birds. Check
with a local library or nursery for directions on building a small lined
Nesting Boxes -
Nesting boxes are a good habitat amendment
for cavity nesting birds. Bat boxes and squirrel boxes can also be built.
A Bluebird Trail can be built by placing several nesting boxes at least
100 yards apart, preferably along a forest edge or in a meadow. Boxes
need to be placed on posts with predator guards. Boxes should be monitored
and cleaned after each brood. Many birds may use bluebird boxes for nesting.
All birds, except house sparrows and starlings, are protected by law.
Feeders. Place bird feeders near
protective shrubs and trees to attract more birds. A bird feeder project
should have some long term benefit for the students and not be a onetime
Signs - Identify projects with signs to help with community recognition.
Signs will help publicize the project and can help offset complaints about
the wild appearance of natural habitats.
Trails - Trails should be an integral
part of any project. Make sure wheel chair access is incorporated into
trail design. A nature trail could eventually wind throughout the entire
schoolyard. Regularly mowed grass trails are easily maintained in sunny
areas. Design the trails to be at least as wide as the mower. A 6-foot
width works well. Wood chips are a good ground cover for wooded trails.
Many tree maintenance companies will provide free wood chips.
Wildlife Observation Blind - A
simple three-sided structure with slats cut out at eye level will allow
students to view wildlife on the other side. It should be placed in front
of bird feeders, wetlands, in meadows or along thickets for closer observation
of secretive wildlife. See diagram for basic design
Outdoor Seating - An area or several
areas where class can be held outside or a child/ group can go to compete
a task or read/write in privacy. Picnic tables can be used for lunchtime
and as work stations. Place in an area that is easy to access from school.
Hillsides are a good place for a small amphitheater. See reference: Thinking
About Seating in Your School Grounds.
Wildlife Tracking Box
- A wooden box filled with mud or modeling clay and placed near
water or a feeding area makes a good tracking box. Visiting animals will
leave tracks which students can identify, make plaster castings of, write
stories about, etc.
Composting - Large or small scale
composting can be used to teach many lessons. Your local Cooperative Extension
Service office or County Public Works office can provide information on
different composting structures.
BayScaping (Native Plant Landscaping)
- The typical foundation landscapes around schools consist of ornamental
non-native plants. Native plants can be added to enhance the existing
landscape or native plants can be used to replace the existing landscape.
A native plant landscape provides learning opportunities for children
and adults. Native plants give people a sense of place within their local
environment. Native plants attract native wildlife and help add to the
biodiversity of schoolyards. Contact a landscape architect with experience
in native landscape design. In the Chesapeake Bay region, native plant
landscaping is called BayScaping.
Gardens - A wide range
of gardens are possible. Planned garden areas should be included in the
school design. Considerations for gardens include:
| Make close to building (courtyards work well)
Full sun is important
A nearby faucet is essential
Topsoil or loam soil should be placed in garden area (Store
topsoil if raised beds will be built at later time)
Raised beds work very well to define area which helps maintenance
Gardens should be accessible to children at all times
Some types of gardens include:
| A Native Plant Garden or Arboretum
A Butterfly/Insect Garden. Plants selected for their nectar
and caterpillar food. Be sure to include several species that bloom
when children are in school.
Vegetable Garden. Use primarily early and late season vegetables
so students can enjoy the harvest.
Sensory Garden. Plants selected for their aromatic, textural,
visual or edible qualities.
Berry Patch. A patch of harvestable berries such as blackberries,
raspberries, blueberries and huckleberries.
Art - There are many types of murals,
blacktop diagrams, sculptures and other art related projects that can
be done to enhance the outdoor learning environment.
Playgrounds: Many good references are available for playground design.
Check the resource section for a list.
Hills - One, or a group of small
hills can be constructed with excess soil. This seemingly strange feature
can add to the diversity and enjoyment of playgrounds. An open or enclosed
lookout tower can be built on top of a hill.
Shade - Plant shade trees throughout
the site especially near the playground. Arbors can be built to create
shade. An open air cabana can provide shade.
Weather Station - A weather station
is an excellent compliment to any outdoor learning area.
Geology Study Area - Develop an
area on the playground where samples of local rocks are kept to learn
about local geology. The samples should be large so that they are not