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Weekly Challenge # 21: Microclimates in the Schoolyard

February 9, 2014

badger in -30

This is a photo my sister in Saskatchewan took a week or so ago when it was -30 degrees. This badger did not seem to mind the extreme cold on this sunny day and it got me to thinking about how winter wildlife adapts to conditions. This line of thinking brought me to the concept of microclimates. 

Have you ever noticed how the south-facing slope of a hill seems warmer than the north side? Have you ever wondered why deer “yard” in coniferous forests in the winter months? Or even why the kids that line up to go into their portable after a windy recess are more eager to get inside than those kids who line up on the outside of the portable classroom lanes?

A microclimate is an area where because of geography or design has a climate that varies from the surrounding area. In summer certain areas of your garden may be drier than others even though they receive the dame watering or perhaps in winter the icicles are longer on one side of the building than the other.

As an example, those of us in the northern hemisphere are quite used to our south-facing windows collecting more of the sun’s heat than north facing windows that never get direct sunlight. Just ask your cat which window she prefers in the middle of winter.

In fact, many animals and even plants take advantage of microclimates such as the previously mentioned deer who “yard” in pines and spruces in the winter. The reasons for the deers’ behaviour is multi-focussed. The snow tends not to be as deep in the forest and the snow laden boughs of the evergreens act almost as an insulated roof over their heads.

Your students likely are already aware of certain microclimates around the schoolyard. They know where to go to stay out of the wind just as they know what are of the playground is warmer during morning recess as opposed to the afternoon recess. They are aware that it is windier between the portables even if they cannot tell you that the buildings act as a wind corridor. What a wonderful way to introduce the concept of wind chill to students. (see chart below from Transport Canada)


With a simple thermometer, a homemade wind sock and anemometer students can easily explore different microclimates around the school or within their community. Students could also use meter/yard sticks or cups to measure precipitation in different areas (older students can factor in evaporation in certain circumstances). Be creative and perhaps experiment with freezing liquids on one side of the school versus another.

However, as GI Joe, used to say, “Knowing is half the battle …”

From here, students could potentially determine how to lessen the impact of the microclimate on students or wildlife. Windbreaks around the schoolyard or asking permission to use the alternative door in the future along portable lines.

This week’s challenge is to explore, investigate and share your own schoolyard or community microclimates. Graph it, compare conditions in different days? What will you find?

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