Tania K. Cowling is a former teacher, a published book author, and award winning freelance writer.
As a tree-hugger and an educator, I made sure Arbor Day was a holiday included in my curriculum plans every year. If we educate students on the vital role of trees, they will hopefully educate their families and friends in turn. An Arbor Day celebration on the last Friday in April is the perfect time to begin.
Founded by J. Sterling Morton, a Nebraska man who loved nature and had a mission to fill his state with trees, Arbor day was first celebrated in the U.S. on April 10, 1872. But on April 22, 1885, the day was declared a legal holiday in Nebraska. The idea spread throughout the country, and to this day, people still plant trees on the last Friday in April.
Since I taught school in Florida, the warm weather was perfect for having classes outdoors. There's nothing better than sitting on a blanket under a shady tree and listening to a story. Why not read The Lorax by Dr. Seuss to your students? The solemn Lorax explains the importance of the truffula trees and the sad fact that many of our forests are disappearing.
Take advantage of your outdoor time and get to know a real tree. With chalk or crayon pieces in hand, invite your young nature lovers to engage in tree rubbings. Place a sheet of white paper onto tree bark and gently rub the coloring material all over it. Observe the unique pattern the tree bark makes. Next, find an old tree stump. Look carefully at the rings, which tell a story of the tree's life. Rings that are close together show a period of lesser growth, which is likely due to a shortage of rain. When there's an abundance of moisture, the rings will be spaced farther apart, meaning the tree had a faster growth rate. Have your students count the rings to estimate the tree's age.
Collect a variety of leaves to sort and compare them back inside the classroom. Classify the leaves by size, general shape, and color, and then compare them to photos in reference books to identify the type of tree they came from. You can even have your student botanists glue their leaves in booklets with the type of tree and date.
Several times throughout my years at this Florida school, our Arbor Day celebration was complete when we planted a small seedling at the school's playground (with permission). I would mark the tree with the year and then take a photograph of my class next to the tree. We'd visit the tree periodically to measure its growth, and as the kids moved on from grade to grade, they could visit their tree to remember our special Arbor Day planting. If your class is interested in planting a tree, you could start a fund-raising project (bake sale, penny jar, candy sales, etc.), and use the profits to buy your own seedling.
Here are a few more Arbor Day ideas:
It's important to teach students that they should never underestimate the value of trees in our world because they provide us with beauty and health. For every tree we lose, we should plant another. So consider continuing J. Sterling Morton's mission with your class this year!