Trees are such amazing natural wonders with so many benefits to people. They provide oxygen, shelter, and fun places to play. I love taking my students into the trees and letting them just explore and get to know the trees around them. With my youngest students I simply let them play and watch as their imagination creates magical worlds. With my older students we often engage in more structured activities to help the students learn more about the trees they share the school yard with. Most of these activities can be adapted to be used at any grade level. Here are 13 easy tree study activities for kids that you can do at school.
1. Tree Sketching
Materials: Sketch books or paper, pencils
Sketching allows students to really study and get to know a tree. In sketching the student must carefully make observations about the tree and translate that into a drawing. Start small with your sketching activities as sketching takes time and practice. Give your students something specific to focus on for their first sketches, such as a single leaf, and then grow from there. Once students become more comfortable with the sketching practice they can use it in their nature journals or translate that skill into their art work.
2. Leaf Printing
Materials: Tempra or acrylic paint, brushes, art quality paper
Leaf printing is a fun way to have students explore and compare the veins and shapes of different leaves. This is a great way to integrate both art and science into a lesson for students at any level. Students will gather a variety of leaves to study. They will then use a paintbrush to paint the underside of the leaf. The painted leaf is then used to make a print on the paper. (Note, if the leaf is extra painty students may wish to have a scrap piece of paper to print first to get rid of some of the excess paint.) Students may paint the leaves a solid colour or they may choose to get creative with blending colours or making rainbows on the leaf.
3. Bark Rubbing
Materials: Wax or pencil crayons, paper
Bark rubbing (or leaf rubbing) is another fun idea to integrate science and art. In this activity students will create texture rubbings of the bark from different trees in their learning space. Students will simply take a piece of paper (or 2 or 3) and place that paper on the bark of the tree. They will then use a colouring utensil of their choice to colour over the paper. The texture of the bark shows through on the paper after it has been coloured. Students can use the textures to make a collage or turn the bark rubbing into another piece of art. Texture rubbing can also be done with leaves.
4. Use a Tree ID Key (or make your own)
Materials: Tree Key
There are several “tree keys” available on the internet. Some are available for free online such as What Tree is This. Tree keys are designed to help you identify common trees in your area. Not only do they help students to identify trees, it helps them to identify the different parts of a tree. You could also have students design their own tree key to help them differentiate the trees specific to their area or learning space.
5. Tree Measurement
Materials: Measuring tapes, recording sheets
Students can explore different aspects of measurement using trees. Depending on the grade level students could:
- Estimate the height or width of a tree using standard or non-standard measurements
- Measure the circumference of a tree and calculate the radius or diameter
- Measure the height of reachable branches on the tree
- Measure the distance between trees
- Calculate the height of the tree using shadows
6. Tree Maps
Materials: Paper, wax or pencil crayons/markers
Maps are a fantastic way to help students understand their surroundings. In map making students start to see how things are connected to each other or how the location of different items affects the way that we use them. There are so many different ways that students can map out the trees in your learning space, but here are a few:
- Location of different types of trees
- Location of trees relative to the location of different human made elements
- Location of animal habitats
- Where are favourite trees are located
- How we use different trees in our learning space
7. Descriptive Writing
Materials: writing paper, pen/pencil
Hone your student’s descriptive writing skills through writing about their favourite trees. Prompt your students to choose a tree to write about and describe. You can have your students write simple descriptive sentences, or more elaborate paragraphs. Depending on your writing purpose, you can have your students write more scientific based paragraphs or help them to get creative with their language and write tree based prose. Either way, get your students to focus on the specific details that make their tree unique. You could even try a more structured activity such as “Find my Tree”or “My Special Tree” from TeachersPayTeachers.
8. Tree Fiction
Materials: Writing paper, pencil/pen
Why not use trees as an inspiration for your next story writing activity. There are so many ways that trees can be integrated into the writing, whether they are the characters, the witness, or the setting. Why not try out a few different prompts like:
- What the tree saw (could be a mystery, could be a drama, could be anything really!)
- The tree through history (the trees version of an historical account)
- What the tree feels (how the tree feels about something that has happened recently in the learning space)
- What happened in these trees (the trees are the setting for a story)
9. Tree Inspired Art
Materials: Dependent on project
Sketching, drawing, or using the trees as inspiration for art can really help the student to get to know and understand the details of the trees around them. There are so many fantastic tree related art projects on pinterest and the internet…so many that I won’t even try to list them here. Most of these activtiries have fantastic step by step instructions to follow so it makes it easy, even for someone who isn’t artistic, to create a beautiful art project. Find a tree art project that is appropriate for your students and give it a try. Art projects are also great rainy day activities and a great way to bring bit of nature inside.
10. Adopt a Tree
Materials: Sketching paper or journal, pencil
This is a full year activity that allows a student to really make a connection with one particular tree in their learning space. At the beginning of the school year each student will choose a tree that speaks to them. They may wish to name their tree, sketch it, or write about it. On a regular basis, at least once per month, the students will go and visit their trees. They can sketch or write about any thing that they have noticed changing about their tree. This is a fantastic activity to help your students notice the changes that occur throughout the seasons and how it affects different aspects of the environment.
11. Who Lives Here?
Materials: none, or recording paper/pencils
This activity can be done with students of any age. Depending on the age of the students you may wish to do this activity as a class or have students work on it in partners. You can also choose how you would like students to document their findings. Simply have your students choose a tree in your learning space to study. Their job is to be tree detectives and discover who has been living in the tree. They can look for evidence like insect holes, nests, or even insects. If possible, see if you can find an old tree in the area that animals have made multiple homes in for comparison.
12. Tree Photography
Materials: Camera or phone/tablet with camera
Capture the beauty and wonder of a tree through the lens of the camera. There are so many approaches that can be taken to help students carefully study a tree. You may choose to integrate other art, writing, or science activities into the photography, or simply let the students explore with their cameras. Some different activities that I have had my students use are:
- photographing a single tree in every season to document the changes that occur
- photographing the diversity of life in the tree
- photographing single aspects of the tree, such as blooms in the spring
- photographing the diversity of trees in the learning space
13. Build a Tree Fort
This is perhaps my favourite way for students to learn about trees. Kids love to build forts. There are so many skills that are developed through fort building such as problem solving, planning, and team work. Through building forts your students not only learn about the different properties of the tree, but they also start to form a bond with that tree. I have students do structured activities, such as using trees to build a shelter in the winter, to fun, playful activities where students just get to play and build creative forts.
Now Get Outside and Start Exploring...
Your students will love getting the opportunity to get outside and explore the trees in their learning space. There are so many ways that you can approach learning about trees and you can easily make these activities fit into your regular curricular studies.Your students will reap the benefits of time outdoorsand enjoy the break from being in the classroom. Understanding our connection to aspects of nature, such as the trees around us, helps our students to want to protect and preserve what is in their learning space. Hopefully these 13 tree study activities for kids can give you a place to start in getting your students outside and learning.
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