Natural habitats and gardens are vital to our plant’s ecosystem. With the vast development of land throughout our region, wildlife has become displaced. Creating natural habitats in your backyard garden can preserve necessary wildlife to sustain our environmental balance. Ford Elementary School in Acworth, Georgia is one of the premier schools to successful develop a natural habitat and use it to educate students outside the classroom.
Ford Elementary School Earth Plant Program
Founder and teacher Catherine Padgett says the program’s first goal, “is to bring awareness of environmental issues such as habitats, pollution, and conservation of resources to the classroom by using Ford’s outdoor classrooms.” In 1995, one raised garden bed and $200.00 started what would eventually become 20 wooded acres, multiple nature trails, edible gardens, pollinating gardens and provide science lessons for over 700 students. The outdoor labs enhance traditional classroom curriculum, restores a natural habitat area from the school construction and received official certification from National Wildlife Federation as a “school yard habitat.” Ms. Padgett received national recognition in 2013 by being one of eleven teachers in the United States to receive the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Education.
Outdoor Classroom Curriculum
Students enjoy being outside in the garden and seeing the plants they planted grow to maturity. The outdoor classroom includes a Children’s Garden, multiple butterfly habitats, a native plant garden, a native tree arboretum, several aquatic areas and an observation deck. First graders study the parts of the plant and starting from seeds. Second graders learn how wildlife impacts the gardens. Third graders realize their environmental footprint in our world. Forth graders study wildlife’s impact on plants and gardens. Fifth graders can learn about the impact of water pollutants on the environment and prevention.
Math and nutrition classes focus on vegetables by measuring and collecting data in the Geometric Math Garden. A Native American Legends Garden was created for Social Studies classes, to discover the relationship between corn, bees and squash. Educational signage all over the school and gardens allow the students to learn, in an authentic learning environment. Teachers, parents and the surrounding community are committed to the physical, educational and financial demands of such a long term program. Parent volunteers are trained and come back several years in a row, to teach outdoor classes beyond the classroom to the eager students.
Donations, community involvement, cooperation from groups like “The Captain Plant Foundation,” and the Chamber of Commerce will continue to sustain this innovative and genius opportunity for kids to interact with the outdoors, learn about their role in the environment and protecting our habitat. We too, can draw onto nature to create a mutually appreciated sanctuary for wildlife and for us. The National Wildlife Federation will certify your garden as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, if you meet their criteria: http://www.nwf.org/How-to-Help/Garden-for-Wildlife/Certify-Your-Wildlife-Garden.aspx
Requirements for a natural Certified Wildlife Habitat
- Provide a food source for wildlife – native plants can provide nectar to wildlife to support insects. 96% of songbirds rely on insects for food.
- Provide a water source for wildlife – birds need water for bathing; consider placing water sources at multiple levels (one on the ground can provide water for rabbits)
- Provide shelter/cover for wildlife – dense vegetation, brush piles and rock walls all provide shelter.
- Provide a place to raise young – dense vegetation does this, but consider a chickadee nesting box. How to build a chickadee nesting box
- Your garden must be sustainable – use native plants and maintain the garden in an eco-friendly way – DO NOT USE chemicals. Consider reducing the size of your lawn.