Nature in Cities

Cooling the Schools Sydney

We are working with students to add thousands of plants to community spaces and schools across Greater Sydney. As students learn about and connect with nature, they’ll also be cooling their neighbourhoods by increasing canopy cover, and creating habitat for plants and animals.

Complete a School Expression of Interest Form

Greening Australia’s Cooling the Schools initiative is all about giving children opportunities to connect with nature, and empowering them to take action alongside their communities to create greener, cooler places where both people and nature can thrive.

The initiative works with students and their communities to increase tree canopy cover and native habitat in school grounds and at local parks to reduce urban heat, support native pollinators, and create healthier places for children to learn and explore.

Numerous studies have shown that exposure to and interaction with nature increases children’s attention spans, focus, creative thought processes, problem solving skills, self-discipline and self-regulation.

What benefits do participating schools receive?

Site visit by Greening Australia staff to initiate co-design of planting area

Shade-bearing trees and shrubs, plus understorey plants that provide habitat for native pollinators

School planting day with curriculum-linked lesson delivered by Greening Australia education and field staff

NSW syllabus linked resources available through partnership with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

Opportunities to participate in community planting days at local parks

What is required of participating schools?

Sign-off by the school principal

Space in school grounds or at nearby park to plant shade-bearing trees and shrubs suitable for the site

Care of plants integrated into school’s landscape maintenance regime

Participation in pre- and post-program surveys

The Challenge

Some urban areas in our cities are more vulnerable to heat stress and the Urban Heat Island Effect than others, because they have more built-up areas that retain heat, and fewer trees that provide shade and cool the air.

The hotspots are becoming more noticeable as our climate changes, temperatures rise and heatwaves intensify. However, adding more plants to these landscapes can help to tackle this effect, and create cooler spaces where people want to spend time outdoors.

Neighbourhoods that are low in canopy cover and vegetation also present some of the biggest opportunities to restore habitat for the city’s plants and animals, and improve the quality and diversity of green community spaces.

Adding more plants will not only help lower temperatures and support wildlife, it will boost physical, mental, and social health benefits for people, and particularly for children.

It’s been shown that green learning environments in schools and neighbourhoods — where children can feed their curiosity, explore and play — make a significant contribution to young people’s development, both through formally structured activities (skills in areas like Science, Technology, Geography and Mathematics) and informal play.

This is where many of their lifelong values, actions and beliefs are formed as they get inspired, run, play and undergo huge emotional, physical and social development.

The benefits of adding more nature into cities are supported by research, but ‘just add plants’ is not a solution on its own – children and their communities need to see the benefits for themselves, feel connected to nature, be empowered to green their spaces, and understand steps they can take to help their neighbourhoods adapt to a changing climate.

The Solution

Schools play a vital role as hubs in our society’s social networks, bringing together people from all walks of life around a common interest: nurturing the next generation and helping lay the foundations of a bright future. That makes schools a great place to start when it comes to providing children with opportunities to connect with nature and feel the benefits firsthand – and then sharing that experience with the whole community.

It makes sense, then, that nature ought to be a feature of the places where our children spend most of their days: schools, neighbourhoods and backyards. This is not always the case, and it can be especially easy to tell on hot summer days, when the lack of shade drives us inside to the aircon. However, if we put plants back into our cities, we can create cooler places for us all to live and play (local plants and animals included).

That’s the concept behind Cooling the Schools, which thanks to $2.77 million in funding from the NSW Government under the Greening our City initiative, is aiming to cool urban areas, establish native habitat, and give children opportunities to connect to nature in their neighbourhoods.

The project will run over three years and add thousands of plants to urban areas across Greater Sydney by working with school students, teachers and their communities. Together, we’ll plant in parks, community spaces and schools, increasing canopy cover, cooling playgrounds and neighbourhoods, and increasing critical habitat for local plants and animals as we go.

Greening Australia has partnered with Western Sydney University to identify hotspots in Sydney to help us prioritise schools in neighbourhoods with the lowest canopy cover and greatest vulnerability to the Urban Heat Island Effect. We are now approaching schools in those communities about joining the project. We are partnering with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service to provide NSW syllabus linked resources and maximise learning opportunities too.

The broader community are also being invited to get involved, through planting days in local green spaces. Those plants can be revisited by locals and enjoyed into the future, and we hope will inspire some plantings in streetscapes and backyards too.

By creating parks, community spaces and schools that are greener and shadier, we are building better learning environments, healthier places for active play and providing a direct experience of what a healthy urban environment can be for the whole community.

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Keen to join? Complete a School Expression of Interest Form

This project is funded by the NSW Government as part of the Greening Our City initiative to plant one million trees by the end of 2022.

The Cooling the Schools project is part of Greening Australia’s Nature in Cities program. As climate change and population growth intensify pressures on our urban areas, we are working with partners across Australia to create greener, more liveable cities where both people and nature thrive.

For more information, please feel free to send us an online query.