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Stewardship Begins at School
In England, a superlative example of an ecological schoolyard.
By Sharon Gamson Danks

Visitors to Cowick First School, in the urban heart of Exeter in southwest England, are welcomed to the school grounds by the happy chatter of young schoolchildren as well as the soft calls of songbirds, the clucking of chickens, and an occasional splash in the schoolyard pond. In the spring, the grounds bloom with a wide variety of flowers and lush vegetation, and the scent of fresh herbs fills the kitchen garden. In the summer and fall, berries of many shapes and colors stain little fingers and mouths with their delicious juices, tomatoes ripen on their vines, and crisp apples fill the children’s harvest baskets and the school’s kitchen. Winter brings animal tracks in the fresh snow, a Christmas tree sustainably harvested from the students’ past plantings, and bird feeders thoughtfully stocked with winter treats for visiting feathered friends. The passage of time and the flow of the seasons can be easily read and understood by children and adults alike on school grounds such as this one that are in tune with the ecology of the local landscape.

Copyright Sharon Gamson Danks

Many schools around the world are designing their grounds to embody the ecological principles they wish to teach their students. Over the past five years, I have had the opportunity to visit more than 120 of these K–12 schools in five countries and have observed and documented the ways that they use their schoolyard landscapes to teach ecological concepts. The strongest programs appear to be the ones that have created multifaceted landscapes, richly layered with interwoven ecological systems developed over many years, and firmly rooted in the schools’ curricula. Cowick First School is among the very best examples of this approach to well-rounded, hands-on ecological education. Its work has stood the test of time over almost two decades, and its well-integrated curriculum has grown stronger with each passing year.

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