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    Developing a Natural Habitat as a Classroom Setting
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    Natural Habitat Experiments

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    Developing a Natural Habitat as a Classroom Setting


    Joyce Pounds
    Kindergarten Teacher
    Lower Moreland Township Schools
    Huntingdon Valley, PA

    Charles E. Jones
    Research Chemist
    Rohm & Haas Company


    Grade Level:

    Kindergarten through third grade



    Life Science, Earth Science



    1. To develop a natural observation site, or an "outdoor classroom".
    2. To create a trail accessing the existing natural area.
    3. To involve the school community in the construction of the natural area.
    4. To integrate use of the trail into the existing curriculum at each grade level.



    It has long been recognized that children learn best when they are actively engaged in their surroundings. Considering this, children should be provided with many opportunities for investigating and manipulating the environments in which they live. These environments should include not only home and school settings, but also outdoor settings, such as the natural habitat within a schoolyard. The outdoor "classroom", no matter what type, offers a multitude of opportunities for concept development. Almost every schoolyard boasts some type of natural habitat that teachers may utilize in their students' learning. Whether it is a perennial garden enclosed within an urban playground (see Hepner and Killiam, Rubber Gardens, 1992), or a wooded area complete with its own variety of plant and animal wildlife, opportunities for authentic science learning abound. The following procedure provides suggestions for transforming the natural surroundings of the schoolyard into an engaging classroom environment. For more information on the benefits of outdoor learning, see reference items 1, 3, 6, 7, and 8.



    1. Search the Internet for ideas and suggestions on developing a natural habitat (See http://www.fws.gov/chesapeakebay/schoolyd.htm). This site offers not only procedures and guidelines to follow, but also literature supporting the notion of the outdoor classroom as a beneficial factor in children's learning. Also included are samples of habitat designs, illustrating the many possibilities for habitats within limited schoolyard areas.
    2. Evaluate the surroundings and determine the potential of the outdoor area for observation opportunities. The first trip to the natural area should be one of exploration. At this time, the characteristics of the land and the types of living things found there should be noted. Enlisting the expertise of a horticulturist or naturalist to explore the site can be helpful, providing suggestions on how to best utilize the natural setting. During this visit to the site, indications of erosion as well as natural paths that might form a navigable trail should be noted.
    3. Set goals, develop steps, and set a timeline to create the natural area. At this stage, decide what needs to be done in order to create the trail or natural area that is envisioned. Setting a timeline to accomplish each of these steps helps to make the creation of the natural area a manageable and realistic task.
    4. Identify hazards and take steps to minimize them (e.g. poison ivy, ticks, etc.). In creating a natural area, it is sometimes necessary to remove poisonous plants from the path where observers may walk. There are several herbicides on the market that safely eliminate poisonous plants without harming children. Roundup� is one such product. More information on the use of Roundup� can be found by visiting the web site https://www.roundup.com/smg/goART3/Howto/how-do-i-apply-roundup-weed-and-grass-killer-products/43700008
    5. Determine the path of the nature trail and the tools and equipment needed to construct it. After visiting the site several times, the best path for a trail or walkway will be determined. By examining the path, it will be easily seen what will need to be pruned, added, or removed. For example, stepping stones or a bridge may be added, or brush and branches removed. After determining what needs to be altered, list the tools and materials needed to do each job.
    6. Recruit volunteers to assist in constructing the area. Possible volunteers could include members of the school community, such as scouts, families, and school staff. Letters should be written that describe the project and invite school community members to assist with its development. "Experts" can be located in almost any school community, such as parents who own tree or landscaping services, or school staff that maintain the grounds. You may even have materials or services donated by these community experts.
    7. Proceed with construction of the trail. Once volunteers, tools, and equipment are gathered, construction of the area can begin. A list of duties that must be completed should be developed, and volunteers should be assigned these duties. Some of the tasks may involve cutting branches, chipping wood, collecting limbs, planting bushes or flowers, or building benches or bridges. Organizing the volunteers and duties before beginning construction can help to ensure completion of the project.
    8. Prepare plan for renovation, expansion, and maintenance. When the site is complete, it is a good time to begin thinking about how the area can be improved upon. By making a "wish list" of items to enhance or expand your area, you can begin planning for further renovation. Perhaps the plan can include something new every year, or each grade level can come up with a way of improving the area. Also included in the plan should be accommodations for weekly, monthly, and yearly maintenance. Outdoor areas will require maintenance such as collecting trash, replanting flowers and pulling weeds, laying more wood chips on a trail, or rebuilding a worn bridge. These maintenance duties can be performed by scout troops, parents, teachers, or other school community volunteers. Perhaps several groups will adopt different parts of your natural area to care for and maintain.

    9. Search for funding. There will probably be some expense involved in creating a habitat site, but there will also be organizations that may be willing to help support the project financially. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service web site offers suggestions for possible sources of funding or grants to create a habitat site. See http://www.fws.gov/chesapeakebay/school/fund.htm to receive more information about funding a schoolyard habitat.


    It is important to note that the construction of a natural area offers more to a school than simply an outdoor learning environment. In addition to building a natural habitat, a project such as this builds community. Combining the efforts of students, families, school staff, and business in the community, a school can create both an outdoor classroom and a community event. The children are given a chance to demonstrate their skills and talents, as much of the work is within their capabilities. The families enjoy themselves while strengthening relationships with each other and with their partners, the school staff. The businesses bring expertise and also strengthen relations with the community and school. All who are involved can feel a personal ownership of the area and of the learning that it will undoubtedly help to unfold. A project like this helps to develop new batches of scientists, both young and old.


    General Objectives:

    By exploring the woodland habitat made accessible by the nature trail, students will:

    1. identify a habitat.
    2. understand the importance of a habitat.
    3. recognize habitats in one's own surroundings.
    4. develop respect for nature.
    5. gain an awareness of the diversity of life.
    6. develop an interest in exploring the characteristics of living things within a habitat.
    7. develop observation skills.
    8. develop scientific inquiry skills.
    9. develop skills in recording and sharing information and ideas.


    Extension ideas for the natural area:

    1. List possible names for the area and vote for a favorite.
    2. Search for animals' homes in the natural habitat.
    3. Search for other evidence of animals in the habitat.
    4. Collect and compare different leaves.
    5. Collect and compare different rocks, both in and around the creek bed and on other sections of the trail.
    6. Study the path of erosion and plan ways of diverting water from the path.
    7. Plant shrubs to attract butterflies and other insects.
    8. Study and measure the growth of certain plants in the natural habitat.
    9. Develop a small compost area and compare the decomposition rates of different materials.
    10. Measure the depth of the creek at intervals.
    11. Draw maps of the nature area and go on "treasure hunts" for natural items and landmarks.
    12. Write stories, poems, and songs about excursions on the trail.
    13. Read books about animals, plants and adventures in the woods (see attached book list).
    14. Collect soil samples and examine with hand lenses.


    Children's Literature About Plants, Animals, and Habitats:

    Hoban Look, Look, Look
    Hoban Look Again
    Rotner and Kreisler Nature Spy
    Clements Mother Earth's Counting Book
    Coldrey Discovering Snails and Slugs
    Lionni The Biggest House in the World
    Tresselt The Gift of the Tree
    George Beaver at Long Pond
    George Around the Pond: Who's Been Here?
    George In the Woods: Who's Been Here?
    Gibbons The Seasons of Arnold's Apple Tree
    Halpern Apple Pie Tree
    Halpern It's Pumpkin Time!
    Growing Apples and Pumpkins
    Rockwell Apples and Pumpkins
    Lerner My Bacyard Garden
    Goldsmith Sleepy Little Owl
    Wexler Everyday Mysteries
    Lauber Your Aboard Spaceship Earth
    Hoban Look Book
    Bully A Tree is a Plant
    Udry A Tree is Nice
    Ehlert Planting a Rainbow
    MacMillan Growing Colors
    Ehlert Growing Vegetable Soup
    Krauss The Carrot Seed
    Gibbons Marshes and Swamps
    Dunrea Deep Down Underground
    Edwards Some Smug Slug
    Fleming In the Small, Small Heart
    Fleming In the Tall, Tall Grass
    Fleming Where There Once Was a Wood
    Pfeffer What it's Like to be a Fish
    Aliki My Five Senses
    Baylor The Other Way to Listen
    Cristini In the Woods
    Cristini In the Pond
    Curran Life in the Forest
    Fife Vacant Lot
    Brisson Wanda's Roses
    Guiberson Cactus Hotel
    Kalman Wonderful Water
    Mazer The Salamander Room
    Parker Working Frog
    Rius Life on the Land
    Romanova Once There Was a Tree
    Aliki Corn is Maize
    Althea Tree
    Back Bean and Plant
    Behn Trees
    Brown Your First Garden Book
    Tetherington Pumpkin, Pumpkin
    Jordan How a Seed Grows
    Kuchalla All About Seeds
    Lionni A Busy Year
    Merrill A Seed is a Promise
    Marzola I'm a Seed
    Sekido Fruits, Roots, and Fungi: Plants We Eat
    Carle The Tiny Seed
    Barrett Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing
    Bernhard Ladybug
    Carle The Grouchy Ladybug
    Carle The Very Hungry Ladybug
    Carle The Very Busy Spider
    Carle The Very Quiet Cricket
    Carle The Very Lonely Firefly
    Eastman What is a Fish?
    Fisher When it Comes to Bugs
    Himmelman The Ups and Downs of Simpson Snail
    Hoberman A House is a House For Me
    Kilpatrick Creepy Crawlies
    Lionni Fish is Fish
    Nash The Snail
    Oelson Snail
    Pallotta The Icky Bug Alphabet
    Rockwell The Story Snail
    Segaloff Fish Tales
    Spier People
    Ryder The Snail's Spell
    Stadler Snail Saves the Day
    Wildsmith Fishes
    Yorinks Louis the Fish
    Carter Over in the Meadow
    Keats Over in the Meadow
    Langstaff Over in the Meadow
    Curran Life in the Meadow
    Carrick The Pond
    Kuhn Hidden Life in the Meadow
    Becker Animals in the Field and Meadow
    Bough Who Lives in this Meadow
    Howe I Wish I Were a Butterfly
    Ryder Where the Butterflies Grow
    Parker Bugs
    Grossman Ten Little Rabbits
    Ginsburg Across the Stream
    Lionni Inch by Inch



    1. Coffee, S.R. Down By the Schoolyard. Virginia Journal of Education, March, 1998.
    2. Doris, E. Doing What Scientists Do: Children Learn to Investigate Their World. Portsmouth, NH: Heineman Publishers, 1991.
    3. Griffen, S. A Case for Schoolyard Habitats. Pennsylvania Forests, Fall, 1997.
    4. Hepner, M.A. and Killiam, S. Rubber Gardens. Project L.A.B.S. 1992.
    5. Holt, B. Science with Young Children. Washington: NAEYC, 1993.
    6. Nixon, W. How Nature Shapes Childhood. Amicus Journal, Summer, 1997.
    7. Nixon, W. Letting Nature Shape Childhood. Amicus Journal, Fall, 1997.
    8. Rivkin, M. The Schoolyard Habitat Movement: What it is and Why Children Need It. Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 25, No. 1, 1997.
    This experiment is courtesy of 

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