Schoolyard Habitat Program

Photo credit: USFWS

The Schoolyard Habitat Program helps teachers and students create wildlife habitat at their own schools

Typical Schoolyard Habitat projects include: wetlands, meadows, forests and variations based on specific ecoregions.

Many projects are planned through multiple phases and change over time as children from various classes build upon the existing work of past students. We work with your school to provide:

  • Technical assistance and project guidance
  • Teacher training
  • Develop written materials

Our goal is to provide technical and organizational assistance to school, so they can create outdoor classrooms that are effective as educational tools in addition to being a sustainable habitat for many years to come.

Please download the following Fact Sheet for more information on the Schoolyard Habitat Program:

Schoolyard Habitat Fact Sheet (.pdf)

Benefits of Schoolyard Habitats

Schoolyard Habitat projects are designed to achieve the mission and goals of the school, the Service, and the community. They address multiple environmental and educational concepts that benefit all involved, particularly the students.

Ecologically sound: Schoolyard habitat projects provide habitat for local and migratory wildlife including songbirds, shorebirds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and more. In many cases, these habitats also provide a vegetative buffer to nearby streams, helping to reduce pollution reaching these waterways. To be ecologically sound the schoolyard habitats must be large enough in size and scope so they have a lasting impact on the local environment.

Integrated into the curriculum: Schoolyard habitats offer many teaching and learning opportunities in English, science, mathematics, history, geography, social studies and art. The process of planning, creating and using a schoolyard habitat exposes children to unique hands-on experiences. A well-designed schoolyard habitat provides the opportunity for authentic long term data collection, which teachers attest is an important element for effective teaching.

Stewardship: Research has shown that during the formative years of life, students develop perceptions and values about their environment. If designed and managed well by students, schoolyards can provide them with a powerful example of good land stewardship. Experts have demonstrated that young children are driven to explore, discover and play while refining motor skills. A schoolyard that includes a diversity of natural areas allows students to exercise these needs while nurturing the development of a land ethic that values natural spaces.

Restoring a native habitat on a school site provides opportunities for:

  • Children: to develop knowledge and skills as they undertake an exciting, real-life project.
  • Teachers: to use the broad context of restoring the school yard to help enliven teaching and learning that can weave through the curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade and beyond.
  • A school: to create opportunities for community involvement and diversify the schoolyard environment.

Restoring a school landscape provides the opportunity to engage students in:

  • Scientific inquiry in a meaningful context;
  • Hands-on, minds-on learning;
  • Real-life, important decisions that build confidence and resiliency;
  • Interdisciplinary learning in a broad context;
  • Work among peers, classes, grades and schools.
  • Community involvement through cooperative projects.

Download the project guide here. (8MB, PDF)

SCHOOLYARD HABITAT: Rio Vista Middle School Students discuss their project

Photo Credit: USFWS

The Students from Rio Vista Middle School were mentored by the Schoolyard Habitat team to plant over 300 native plants to support butterflies and other pollinators during this January habitat planting day. This project took a significant amount of irrigation offline, allowing the school budget to grow as well. (Video by Ashley Spratt/USFWS)

SCHOOLYARD HABITAT: Sacramento's Williamson Elementary School Put Finishing Touches on Their Project

Photo Credit: USFWS

Students at Williamson Elementary School in Rancho Cordova, Calif., put the finishing touches on their newest classroom, using shovels and trowels and getting dirty in the process. The school, which was very close to shutting down last year, now has a new place to learn outside of the classroom in a native pollinator garden. Limited budgets for field trips will not be boxing these kids in this year.

The excitement of the day was not always a given. Last year Williamson was one of three schools in the area that were considered for closure. Two would need to close and other neighborhood schools would absorb the students from those closing. It was a very strong possibility that it could have been Williamson. Near the end of the school year, the decision to keep Williamson open was made. Now instead of closing its doors, after a year and a half of teacher training and site preparation, students eagerly planted, mulched and watered their new classroom. As the weather warms and plants grow and bloom, this garden full of native plants will attract pollinator species, such as butterflies and songbirds, and give students an engaging place to learn outside of the classroom.

"It's great to see kids in a different light outside of the classroom," said school's principal, Andy Smith. "It's getting them out of the classroom and getting [them] to do things they wouldn't normally do."

Your School Can Be a 'Green Ribbon Award' Winner

Photo Credit: USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has teamed up with the U.S. Department of Education (Department) to help your school be recognized for being green with the Green Ribbon Award program. The Department recently announced the pilot U.S. Green Ribbon School award program honoring schools that have taken steps to green their campuses including their buildings and grounds.

By participating in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Schoolyard Habitat Program, not only will you be creating homes for wildlife and educational spaces for students you will also be eligible to apply for the Green Ribbon School award. The Service's Schoolyard Habitat program helps schools Initiate, Create and Incorporate wildlife habitat projects that are also used as outdoor classrooms.

Teachers are able to enhance standard curriculum that align with Federal and state education goals and mandates, while improving students skills in core subjects such as science, math, reading, and language arts. For more information contact one of our Schoolyard Habitat Coordinators listed on this page.