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Creating Habitat Sites

Planning Process

The first true step in creating a Schoolyard Habitats® site is to introduce the concept of wildlife habitat and its many benefits. The entire school community should understand how the wildlife habitat site will enhance its educational offerings. Because long-term goals and commitment for continued care are essential to ensure the success of a wildlife habitat site for both participants and wildlife, there are several other steps you'll want to take. Click on a topic below to learn more:

Students with flowers

Creating the Habitat Team

The most successful wildlife habitat sites are generally those created by a strong team of people. The size and scope of your project will determine the size and scope of your team. The purpose of the habitat team is to take the necessary steps to create the habitat and to ensure that it continues to grow and thrive for years to come.

When looking for team or committee members, consider who in the community has any of the varied interests and skills needed to tackle the planning, fundraising, publicizing, building, or planting skills involved in the development of your site. Other successful wildlife habitat teams have including people with various kinds of experience, such as:

  • Students
  • Educators
  • Administration
  • Maintenance Staff
  • Community Members
  • Parents and Guardians
  • Local businesses, Civic Organizations, and Government Agencies
  • Click here to obtain a worksheet that will help you create a habitat team.

    Creating the Vision

    The next task of the habitat team is to develop a vision for your Schoolyard Habitats® site. The process of developing your vision will aid in bringing together the school community and generating enthusiasm and ownership for your project. An example of a vision statement follows:

    “Our vision for a Schoolyard Habitats site is to provide a natural area that is aesthetically pleasing where wildlife can be observed and appreciated. This site will provide students with hands-on experiences that enhance their learning process.”

    Examples of specific goals might include some like these:

  • Dig up/dispose of asphalt on site
  • Plant 7 native trees/shrubs
  • Create 10 ft. by 12 ft. butterfly garden
  • Put in 3 raised planting beds
  • Click here for a worksheet that will help you create your site vision.

    Setting the Goals

    Next you will define and set clear and attainable project goals. The construction of a wildlife habitat site may seem daunting, but it will not be overwhelming if it is developed in phases. The ongoing nature of these projects allows for additional time to locate funding and materials sources.

    Click here for a worksheet that will guide you through the process of setting long and short-term goals for your project.

    Next Steps

    After defining clear and workable goals, your team will establish a timeline with estimated planning, budget, and material needs. This timeline should also identify areas where assistance is needed, so the team can develop a wish list. After completing a site inventory during the Site Mapping activity, revise the wish list to include identified gaps in material and technical needs.

    a) Reaching Out: Resources and Community Outreach

    It is important to remember that money does not need to be a limiting factor to the success of your project. By reaching out to the community, an incredible amount of in-kind donations and volunteer support can be obtained!

    Assistance from the community comes from a wide variety of sources: landscape architects ready for a new challenge; local businesses willing to donate plants, landscape materials, and their expertise; garden and civic clubs excited to offer their knowledge and hands‑on involvement, etc.

    Click here for a list of suggestions to help you locate community partners.

    b) Fundraising Strategies

    There are many creative ways to fundraise for a habitat project, as well as grant funds available. Visit the Teacher Resource Center for potential grant sources for your project. Below are some other creative approaches you may want to consider:

  • Contact a local gardening club or native plant society about any plant-share opportunities or plant rescues in the area.
  • Have a local scout troop make raised beds, containers, or benches for the habitat as part of a service project.
  • Contact a Master Gardener from the community for support—they must do 50 hours of community service.
  • Contact a local bird watching club about sponsoring birdfeeders for the habitat. Local hardware stores or home centers may be willing to donate birdhouse and/or birdfeeder kits.
  • Contact local natural resource agencies or government agencies to inquire about free mulch or topsoil.
  • Look for habitat sponsors in the community. For example, a local grocery store might sponsor a fountain in the habitat in return for a name plaque to increase community awareness of their store.
  • c) Incorporating the Habitat in Your Program

    Both formal and non-formal educators have had enormous success with creating and incorporating wildlife habitat sites into curriculum. Educators find that the habitat site appeals to multiple learning styles and excites participants about learning through the hands-on nature of the work. The habitat can also serve as an excellent means to integrate the various disciplines and to bring to light real-world applications of skills learned in the classroom. Educators are thrilled to discover that many of the state and national standards across subject areas can be successfully reached through work in a wildlife habitat. Visit the Teacher Resource Center for additional information on habitat sites and national standards!

    Click here for activity ideas for use in your habitat site.

    d) Maintenance

    Creating a habitat-based learning site at a facility lessens the need for traditional maintenance in that area. However, some maintenance will be required to enable the habitat to thrive, especially until the plants are fully established. Enlisting people to help maintain the habitat year round is vital. With the proper guidance, students can be in charge of any required maintenance during the months that the habitat is being used as an outdoor classroom. However, it must be determined who will take care of watering, weeding and general upkeep of the habitat (including keeping any feeders and water sources clean and filled) when the habitat site is not in use.

    There are a variety of solutions for off-season maintenance issues. Look into summer academic or recreation programs to see if educators and/or staff are interested in using the habitat site for teaching; they, in turn, can maintain the site as part of the learning process. Other suggestions include contacting local scout troops, garden or service clubs, or neighborhood associations for maintenance volunteers. Consider organizing teams of youths and parents to take care of off-season maintenance duties.

    Attention to maintenance issues is an extremely important aspect of creating a wildlife habitat site. Proper maintenance ensures that youth, teens, and wildlife can return for years to come and continue to enjoy the site's many benefits.

    e) Keeping Contacts

    You can use letters from participants, photographs, a semi-formal report, or a small newsletter to keep various stakeholders informed on the progress and/or use of the project. Often, important team members, such as school board members, resource specialists, volunteer organization supervisors, property administrators, business sponsors, etc., are unable to participate in the day-to-day operations of the site. However, these folks will appreciate communication from the wildlife habitat team and will often place a higher value on projects that regularly update their progress. In addition, groups that have invested time, energy, and resources in the project will be more likely to continue support if they are kept apprised of events involving the wildlife habitat. Share your success stories!