We target our schoolyard grants based on what we have seen works the best. We’re looking for projects that meet three essential criteria:
- Youth engagement in planning and doing (age-appropriate)
- Creation of an ecosystem community based on native plants
- Focus on hands-on educational activities
We emphasize youth engagement because it is the single best predictor of project success. Children of any age can participate in visualizing and planning a project. And of course children of any age can prepare the soil and place plants or seeds. The participation will be different for very young children compared to youth in middle or high school. We will favor an application that shows children’s ideas, drawings and research rather than one that shows the polished work of adults. The engagement of students leads to learning, pride in the project, and continued efforts to establish and continue the project.
Second, we focus on projects with native plants: the foundation of a complex web of life that includes birds, beneficial insects, soil organisms and other creatures. Multiple native plant species provide food, shelter and other habitat services and make the project an interesting place. You can include edible plants if you choose those that are native to your area. If you need assistance with planning your project, perhaps one of our members can help you identify species that are appropriate to your site’s soil, sunlight and moisture conditions, so the plants will thrive. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for contact assistance.
Our third essential criterion is a focus on hands-on educational activities. These can cover a wide range of subjects and activities – from biology and ecology to poetry and visual arts. Most successful projects incorporate multiple learning concepts and involve multiple teachers. We prefer to fund these projects. Depending on your situation, you may also find it useful to link your activities to state-mandated curricula.
Projects that meet these grant criteria can take many forms, depending on the specific site and the interests of the participating students. Here are some examples:
- A wildflower garden featuring nectar and larval plants for butterflies and other pollinators
- A grove of native shrubs and trees that provide food and shelter for songbirds
- A wetland edge, perhaps part of a man-made stormwater detention basin or drainage channel, or on the bank of a natural pond or stream.
- A xeric (dry) landscape featuring cacti, succulents and other plants that are native to the local area
- A prairie restoration or meadow area
- A nature trail through existing wildlife habitat
- A woodland area managed with attention to woodland wildflowers or native shrubs
- Any other format that excites your students and meets our criteria