School Biodiversity Project: Connecting Students with Nature

Guest Blog by: Howard Elston
(an inspiring School Teacher who is currently working on an amazing sustainable home development project)

“If children don’t know the natural environment, then how can they care about it?”  Hearing this question at a teachers’ Sustainable Living conference grabbed my attention.  What did the students at my Melbourne suburban school know about the natural world?  Why should they care about places unfamiliar to them if there was no emotional attachment?  Responding to questions like these led to me starting the Year 5 & 6 Biodiversity Project.

To begin, I needed a place with natural features outside the school grounds.  Luckily, my school was within walking distance of a bushland reserve running along a small creek.  It offered an ideal location for an outdoor classroom where students could safely roam in a slightly wild setting.

The City Council kindly agreed to allocate a section of the reserve to the school.  With guidance from Council staff, students would provide the labour necessary to maintain and improve this area.

Picture 1
Bushland reserve near the school

In consultation with an indigenous nursery, students decided the best way to make a difference was to remove weeds from the bushland and plant a variety of indigenous seedlings (ground covers, shrubs and trees).  Each Term, the students spent an afternoon at the reserve, working on “their part” and observing what had changed since the last visit.

Spreading mulch was a good way of preventing weeds from reappearing and creating the right conditions for native plants to propagate.  Everyone had a chance to get their hands dirty!

Picture 2
Hundreds of seedlings were planted to thicken up the bushland

picture 3

Over the years since the project has been running, I have observed the growing connection between these students and their local environment.  As one student said to me, “I like the way you can see we’re making a difference.  This is a fun way to do something about climate change.”   Council representatives also commented on the gradual change.  They could see the students’ care and attention paying off with a steady improvement in the bushland setting.

Once the project was established, the ideas for making other connections flowed thick and fast.  I discovered many people in the local community who were eager to assist with educating students about the natural world.

picture 4

Highlights for the students included:

  • Learning how to care for the plants and animals in the creek with the assistance of specialists from Melbourne Water.
  • Studying the mini-beasts which lived in the bushland under the guidance of a biologist.
  • Listening to an Aboriginal elder explain the First Australians’ perspective on caring for country while sitting in a place that the students cared about.
  • Getting to know the native bird species with expert guidance from volunteer bird watchers. Students then built and installed duck nesting boxes near the creek so the ducks could thrive.
  • Sharing their experiences of caring for the local environment at an Australian conference of school children with similar passions and interests.

I am optimistic the experience has helped successive classes make a connection with the natural environment. If, as they grow to young adults, they feel empowered to take action on environmental concerns, then I have succeeded.  They truly do care.

Meet my guest blogger, Howard Elston and his wife Libby 🙂

Libby and Howard
Libby and Howard

This wonderful piece was kindly shared by Howard giving us a chance to learn more about such an awesome biodiversity project. After reading this, my curiosity peaked. I started wondering about all the other projects out there working to create this precious connection between kids and our natural environment. At present, Howard and Libby are working on a sustainable home development project. Equipped with their enthusiasm and ‘stop thinking, start doing’ attitude, they have embarked on an adventure to explore various options and build units which are kinder to our planet. Follow their adventure here.

Photo Credits:
All photos within text: Howard Elston
Header:  Theophilos via / CC BY-NC-ND

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