The Challenge

Australian cities are expanding at an unprecedented rate, leading to the loss of over 1.5 million hectares of natural green space.

The loss of habitat in urban landscapes had significant consequences for biodiversity, since 30% of Australia’s threatened species occur in and around our cities.

With fewer trees and green cover providing shade and cooling the air, some areas of our cities are also becoming hotter, meaning people are less likely to be active or getting outside – negatively impacting our physical, mental and social wellbeing.

These urban 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, greener spaces where people want to spend time.

The benefits of nature in cities are supported by research, but ‘just add plants’ is not a solution on its own – people 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 social hubs, bringing people together 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 showcasing the benefits of nature in cities and giving students and teachers opportunities to connect with nature, feel the benefits firsthand, be empowered to green their spaces, and take practical steps to help their wider networks reduce urban heat.

Planting in schools brings multiple benefits for students, teachers, and the wider school network. Credit Tom Yau.

It’s also been shown that green learning environments 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 they form many of their lifelong values, actions and beliefs as they explore, get inspired, run, play and undergo huge emotional, physical and social development.

Numerous studies have also 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.

Nature enables effortless learning and play, and offers endless ways to feed curiosity.

It makes sense, then, that nature ought to be a feature of the places where our children spend most of their days.

That’s the thinking behind Greening Australia’s Cooling the Schools initiative, which is designed to help students connect with nature firsthand by planting native species in their schoolyards, at the same time empowering them to increase canopy cover, reduce urban heat, and create critical wildlife habitat.

Thanks to funding from the NSW Government’s Greening our City program, Cooling the Schools has been delivered with more than a hundred schools across Sydney, and a pilot has also been run with eight schools in Adelaide.

Enthusiastic students planting in their school in South Australia. Credit Michael Haines.

Why plant in schools? By creating cooler, greener schools, we are building better learning environments and healthier places for active play – providing a direct experience of what a healthy urban environment can be for the whole community.

We hope planting in schools will inspire plantings in streetscapes and backyards too.

More about Nature in Cities