I love teaching about trees because there’s much to discover all year, during any season. From bark to leaves, trees are amazing wonders of nature! If you’re planning on studying trees with your students, you’re going to love this roundup of activities and resources. Check them out below:
1. Make a Bark Viewer
Have you ever tried to identify a tree by its bark? (In the winter this is especially beneficial, as the leaves are no help.) Check out this handy Bark Viewer for identifying the trees in your yard, or on your next nature walk!
2. Make Bark Rubbings
Bark rubbings are another fun way to experiment with different types of tree bark. Simply attach a piece of printer paper (we tied it to the tree with a piece of yarn), and use an unwrapped crayon or charcoal stick to create rubbings. Store the bark rubbings in your nature journal along with the name of the tree species.
3. Make Chlorophyll Prints
Chlorophyll, the pigment that gives plants their green color, helps plants create their own food through photosynthesis. To make chlorophyll prints, collect fresh green leaves of different shapes and sizes. Arrange the leaves on a piece of paper with the top side of the leaf facing up. Place a paper towel on top of the leaf and tap firmly with a hammer. The chlorophyll will release in the shape of the leaf onto the paper towel.
4. Count Tree Rings
Did you know a tree tells its story through its rings? Not only does a tree’s rings tell you how old it is, you can also get a picture of what kinds of growing conditions and environmental changes happened during its lifetime. Go outside, find a tree stump, and carefully look at its rings. And check out this handy guide to reading a tree’s rings.
5. Find Out How Leaves Breathe
Leaves make oxygen during a process called photosynthesis – it is this oxygen that we humans need to breathe. In this experiment, we will get to see this process, which is usually invisible to the eye.
First, make sure you have a fresh leaf – one that has JUST been removed from the plant. Next, place your leaf in a bowl of water and place a small rock or weight on top of the leaf so that it remains completely submerged under water. Place the bowl in a spot with direct sunlight (outside is best). After several hours, inspect your leaf. You will notice small bubbles forming around the leaf and on the edges of the bowl. (Use a magnifying glass to see the bubbles more clearly.) How did the bubbles get there? The process of photosynthesis was happening even while the leaf was in the bowl. The leaf used the sunlight shining in the bowl to create energy, releasing oxygen in the form of air bubbles.
6. Make Spruce Tip Tea
Spruce tip tea is my favorite pick-me-up when we are camping or whenever we want a little immunity boost from the wild. It’s so easy and delicious with a bit of honey. Spruce tips are loaded with Vitamin C, potassium and magnesium!
Look for tips that are bright green and just opening up. Be sure to harvest sparingly, leaving much more than you take and avoid trees near roadways or those which have likely been sprayed. Gather a mugful of fresh tips, cover with boiling water and let steep for 3-5 minutes. Strain out the solids (I like to use a paper coffee filter) and mix in a little honey to sweeten if you wish.
Fun fact: Spruce tips have been eaten as a wild food by indigenous peoples for centuries, and Captain James Cook famously gave spruce tip beer to sailors to ward off scurvy.
7. Make Leaf Rubbings
A classic, but nevertheless a great way to play with leaf shapes and practice identifying leaf types. Place fresh leaves vein side up underneath regular printer or drawing paper (not heavy cardstock). Tape down the corners of your paper with painter’s tape to keep things from sliding around. Remove the wrapper from a crayon and rub it sideways across the paper (pastels or charcoal would work too) to reveal the leaves underneath.
8. See How Pinecones Open and Close
The scales of pinecones open and close in response to changes in humidity and temperature. When the air is warm, pinecones open to release their seeds. Warm weather means the seeds have a better chance to germinate and grow into new trees. When it’s damp and cold, they close up.
Try this simple experiment: gather a few different types of pinecones and place them in a bowl of very cold water. Immediately, you’ll notice them beginning to close their scales. After about an hour, they should be completely closed up – looking very different from before! Place them in warm water to see the scales open back up. We love this simple pinecone experiment – it gets ooh’s and aah’s every time!
The NEW Tree Anatomy Nature Study is Here!
For more resources on learning about trees, check out my new Tree Anatomy Nature Study. In this in-depth printable nature study, your student will learn all about the inner-workings of trees and their leaves, bark, roots and seeds. This 28-page nature study unit includes anatomy and fact pages, flash cards, coloring pages, interactive activities and science experiments.