Learn About Trees This Arbor Day (April 24)

Following on the heels of Earth Day, April 24 is Arbor Day (at least in the US). On Arbor Days, citizens are encouraged to plant a tree in recognition of the many gifts trees bestow upon us. Even if you don’t plant a tree (which might be more difficult in these days of social distancing), it is a good opportunity to back up our Earth Day intentions by focusing on trees, especially if you have children at home.

If you want to incorporate some special Arbor Day learning activities for your children (or yourself), I can suggest the following:

  1. Start by learning the many different benefits the world gets from trees. One good resource for that is: https://www.arborday.org/kids/benefits-of-trees/
  2. On your daily walk (or in your backyard or out of a window if you are actually quarantining–or online if your area doesn’t have any trees), select one particular tree that you particularly like. Take pictures or note things about it, such as its leaves, buds, flowers, and bark. Try to estimate the diameter of its trunk, or bring a tape measure or piece of string and ruler to measure all around the trunk and calculate the diameter to turn this into a math lesson (check out this Khan Academy video if you are hazy about how to do that: https://www.khanacademy.org/math/basic-geo/basic-geo-area-and-perimeter/area-circumference-circle/v/circles-radius-diameter-and-circumference ).
  3. If you aren’t a great tree expert, try using an online tree identification guide to determine what kind of a tree it is. One good place to look is: https://www.arborday.org/trees/whattree/. Another one I like is: https://www.treemusketeers.net/tree-identification/.
  4. How old do you think the tree is, based on its size and type? Guess first, then see how close you were using the chart included in this lesson plan from the Morton Arboretum in Illinois: https://www.mortonarb.org/files/Find%20the%20Age%20of%20a%20Tree%20-%20middle%20school.pdf.
  5. Once you have an idea of what variety of tree it is, you can quantify the value of its contributions in various ways using the National Tree Benefit Calculator at: https://www.arborday.org/calculator/index.cfm
  6. Once you’ve figured out how to do that for one tree, it is fun to compare the contributions of different trees. You can make it into a game of trying to figure out which one contributes “the most,” or which contributes the most in different aspects, such as absorbing atmospheric carbon or reducing stormwater run-off. There can be a lot of math and science lessons you can spin off of this activity.
  7. However, I personally wouldn’t want to reduce trees just to their utility to our world. I would supplement the math and the science aspects with some writing and/or some art activities. I have listed a few of my favorites below.
  8. The Morton Arboretum also has lesson plans for writing personal essays about trees that include graphic organizers and evaluation rubrics broken down by grade level for grades 2-12. You can access those on this page: https://www.mortonarb.org/learn-experience/educators/arbor-day-classroom.
  9. If you prefer a shorter, simpler writing activity, the Morton Arboretum also has a print-out for writing a tree-based haiku poem at: https://www.mortonarb.org/files/Arbor%20Day%20Haiku.pdf.
  10. The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University here in Triangle NC has a more realistic-oriented drawing activity posted online at: https://nasher.duke.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Arbor-Day-K-5.pdf.
  11. The North Carolina Museum of Art, also nearby in Raleigh, has a sculpture project based on its iconic tree sculpture at: https://learn.ncartmuseum.org/lesson-plans/shiny-trees/.
  12. An art education website whose name I love, Deep Space Sparkle, has this painting project based on Gustav Klimt’s “Tree of Life”: https://www.deepspacesparkle.com/gustav-klimt-art-project/. (Note: while the lesson plan suggests using metallic paint because that was such a feature of Klimt’s work, I would just use regular paint if that is all you have. The painting on which this is based is so engaging that most students would be inspired to do their own version even without metallic paint.)

That should be enough to keep everyone busy for a while. Plus the more we know about trees, especially from different perspectives, the more we appreciate them.

Happy Arbor Day everyone!

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