Celebrate Arbor Day All Year With These 12 Activities

The Arbor Day Foundation was founded in 1972, the centennial of the first Arbor Day observance in the 19th century. I was born just a month later in Oregon – where a full week is set aside to celebrate trees.

The Arbor Day Foundation inspires people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees.

We can do better than a single day or even a full week to honor earth. Join us in celebrating trees all year long with these 12 activities.

Celebrate Arbor Day with These 12 Activities @EvaVarga.net1. Learn about the history of Arbor Day

2. Plant a fruit tree in your yard or enjoy field trip to an apple farm

3. Correlate the history of the United States to one tree’s growth rings

4. Create art or poetry inspired by trees

forest ecology5. Get Involved with the US Forestry Department or other resource agency

6. Learn how to measure a tree’s height, crown spread and diameter

7. Study the ecosystem of one particular tree


Life Logic: Botany – Plenty O’Plants  is a hands-on life science curriculum that provides ample opportunity for kids to explore plant science in-depth.  This 10-week unit is full of inquiry-based activities and lesson plans fully outlined for you.

8. Learn to identify trees in your community using a dichotomous key or create your own

9.  Study the structure of a tree, how it functions, and what benefits a tree provides

10. Take a nature walk and practice your new skill

Arbor Day @EvaVarga.net11. Organize a Nature Explore Families’ Club

The Arbor Day Foundation has put together a research-based, field-tested collection of resources designed to help you organize a Nature Explore Families’ Club at your school, organization, or in your neighborhood. The Families’ Club Kit has everything you need to start a club and help you connect families with the outdoors and each other.

It also includes general information and customizable forms to get your club started, a facilitator’s guide with helpful hints on organization, and 15 visual, child-friendly activity sheets with facilitator notes specific to each one. For families interested in getting started with nature study and outdoor learning in a co-op environment, this is a wonderful resource!

Read my post, How to Start a Homeschool Coop, to learn more about how to get started with collaborative learning experiences.

12. Show us your favorite tree

Post your photo in the comments, on my Facebook, or send me an email (eva underscore varga at me dot com). I’ll compile them in a special post and we can celebrate Arbor Day together!



STEM Club: Parts of a Tree

From a tree’s tiny root hairs buried in the ground to the highest leaves in its crown, each part of a tree plays an important role in helping it function.  By acting out the parts of a tree, students be able to describe the general structure of a tree as well as explain how different parts of a tree help the tree survive.

In my post, Monocots vs. Dicots, I discussed Angiosperms in detail.  This post focuses upon the Gymnosperms.  

Parts of a Tree

I began the lesson by first asking the class how trees get what they need to survive (food, water, air, nutrients, etc.).   As I elicited their prior knowledge, I slowly introduced a number of terms that were new to most of them.  We didn’t take the time in class to write out definitions so I encouraged them to add them to their notebooks when they got home.  The vocabulary terms I introduced were:

  • Vascular Plants
  • Photosynthesis
  • Chlorophyll
  • Heartwood
  • Sapwood (Xylem)
  • Cambium
  • Phloem
  • Taproot
  • Lateral Roots

When we were familiar with each term, we acted out the parts of the tree. As I introduced each word, I had assigned each student a role or part of the tree and handed out a card with their ‘lines’.  They loved this so much they were laughing and it was hard to keep them focused.  You can watch a short video of their ‘performance’ here:

If Trees Could Talk

One of the best ways to learn about a tree is to look at its annual rings – the science of dendrochronology.  Tree rings show patterns of change in the tree’s life as well as changes in the area where it grows.  I shared with the class a cross-section of a Ponderosa Pine and a Western Hemlock.  We compared the bark and the growth rings of each and discussed how these rings could be used to tell stories of the trees past (fire or insect damage, years of drought or slow growth compared to years of abundant rain).

Tree Cross SectionI then read aloud the following story about a tree and asked them the questions listed below to check for their understanding.

Once upon a time, a tree grew in the forest.  In its first 10 years it grew slowly because the large trees overhead blocked the sunlight.  In its 11th year, the large tree next to it blew down in a storm.  This allowed sunlight to reach the little tree, and for the next 10 years it grew rapidly.  In its 21st and 22nd years there was a severe drought, and the tree could not get enough water.  This stress caused the tree to grow very slowly for three years.  In its 25th year, favorable conditions returned and the tree grew normally for 15 years.  In its 40th year, wildfire raged through the forest.  The tree’s thick bark enabled it to survive, but it was deeply scarred.  It grew slowly for several years after that.  Year 45 was particularly bad.  Bark beetles got under its skin, fungus entered its body through woodpecker holes, and caterpillars ate most of its leaves.  For five years the tree hardly grew at all and became very weak. In its 50th year, it blew down in a storm.  A science teacher found the fallen tree and used a chain saw to make a big tree cookie from the trunk.

What do you think the tree cookie from this tree looked like?  Draw a picture of what you think the rings might appear.

STEM Club: Monocots vs Dicots

This first trimester of STEM Club is an overview class – designed so that I can gauge their individual interests as well as get an idea of their prior knowledge. We wrapped up our mini-unit on plants this week by diving into seed plants in more depth, specifically monocots vs dicots.

Angiosperms vs Gymnosperms

Angiosperms are the most diverse group of land plants – in fact, 90% of all plants are angiosperms. Angiosperms are plants that produce seeds within an enclosure; they are fruiting plants, although more commonly referred to as flowering plants. I discuss flowering plants in more detail below.

Gymnosperms, from the Greek word gymnospermos meaning “naked seeds”, are so named because of the unenclosed condition of their seeds. Gymnosperm seeds develop either on the surface of scales or leaves, often modified to form cones.

The focus of this post is on the angiosperms. I discuss gymnosperms in more detail in the next post, Parts of a Tree.

monocots vs dicotsMonocots vs Dicots

Traditionally, angiosperms have been divided into two major groups, or classes,: the dicotyledons or dicots (Magnoliopsida) and monocotyledons or monocots (Liliopsida). They differ in morphological characteristics of leaves, stems, flowers and fruit of flowering plants. Here is a great chart that contrasts the similarities and differences between these two classes, Monocot vs Dicot.

I passed out a fresh bean pod and a few corn kernels (fresh off the cob) for each student. I asked that they take apart each seed and in doing so look for and identify the embryo, seed coat, seed leaf, and stored food of each. As I only had one microscope, students were called up in pairs to observe a cross section of a monocot and dicot stem. They were instructed to sketch and label each component in their notebooks and if interested, to try growing each at home.


I created a shutter fold printable so they could further explore the concept at home. You can download a free copy of this for yourself, Monocots vs Dicots. I really struggled with this one, so please let me know if you have any trouble interpreting the instructions.

Fall Leaves & Colors :: Nature Study

With the cornucopia of smells coming from the kitchen, the cool breezes, and the sound of crisp fall leaves under foot, fall has always been my favorite time of the year.  Perhaps because we have relocated and the ecology is so different from the coast (where I grew up), the Willamette Valley (where I attended University), and Central Oregon (where I began my adult life) … the current nature challenges at Handbook of Nature Study have inspired me more than ever.

We have avidly been exploring the area and journaling about our observations and discoveries.  Lessons on leaves have been sprinkled throughout our outings and we’ve enjoyed looking for and getting to know the plants whose range does not extend into Oregon (at least not naturally).

Fall Leaves & Colors :: Nature Study @EvaVarga.net

After collecting and pressing a number of autumn leaves, we sat down together with a dichtomous key and walked through it to identify the numerous samples of leaves that we had collected.

A dichotomous key is a method for determining the identity of something (like the name of a a plant, an insect, or a rock) by going through a series of choices that leads the user to the correct name of the item. Dichotomous means “divided in two parts”. At each step of the process of using the key, the user is given two choices; each alternative leads to another question until the item is identified.

For example, a question in a dichotomous key for trees might be something like, “Are the leaves flat or needle-like?” If the answer was “needle-like,” then the next question might be something like, “Are the needles in a bunch or are they spread along the branch?” Eventually, when enough questions have been answered, the identity of the tree is revealed.

Many of the leaves we had collected we already knew, but it was a good opportunity to review vocabulary and focus on some of the smaller details or distinguishing characteristics of leaves.

Another day, I provided each of the kids with a page of clip art leaves and asked that they use chalk pastels to show the colors of fall.   They didn’t show much color value so we opted to do this a second time using water colors.

botanyAn expanded version of this lesson is available in the Science Logic curriculum
Life Logic:  Plenty O’Plants.