Arbor Day and Tree Activities

Friday, April 28, is National Arbor Day in the US. It’s a perfect time to read A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry, and spend some time studying trees!

A Tree is Nice is a lovely book that won the Caldecott Medal in 1957, with illustrations alternate between color and black-and-white. The text describes the many ways that trees are a part of our lives. It even ends with planting a tree, which would be perfect if you plan to plant a tree with your class or at home!

You can easily use this book as a way to explore nature and scientific concepts of plant life, conservation and environmentalism.

Best Ages: pre-k – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • Take a walk with your child. Make observations about the trees that are becoming more green and full in the spring season. Collect leaves from the ground.
  • At home, place a blank white paper over the leaves you collected on your walk and gently rub a crayon over the paper. You will create a raised image of the leaf. Talk about the difference in the shapes of the leaves and display your final artwork!

For Teachers:

  • Teach your students the parts of a tree. Use a free handout like this one if desired.
  • Explain the differences between coniferous and deciduous trees with this free slide show from Teachers Pay Teachers.
  • Discuss how trees are used to make products that we use. Here is a wonderful, free lesson plan from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Slowing Down as a Family

When my daughters and I snuggled on the couch this week to read Quiet in the Garden by Aliki, it reminded me of the importance of slowing down as a family. I loved that this book emphasized the need to slow down and enjoy quiet. In fact, when we do slow down, we notice things that we didn’t notice before because we were too frenzied to notice! We wear ourselves out, run ourselves ragged, become stressed and irritable and exhausted… until we force ourselves to slow down and rest.

My husband and I plan regular intervals of experiencing quiet and rest as a family. We find that we need to slow down from extra activity and just enjoy one another and the world around us. We do this as individuals, as a couple and as an entire family. Here are some of our favorite ways to slow down with our kids:

  1. Leave an open weekend on your calendar. Sometimes our weekends fill up quickly with birthday parties, church events, appointments, trips or guests visiting our home. My husband and I enjoy having an occasional weekend that is reserved for family time.
  2. Make breakfast together. My husband likes to mix up homemade waffles or blueberry pancakes and cook with my oldest daughter. My youngest daughter and I help set the table. We enjoy sharing a yummy, special breakfast together!
  3. Spend time in nature or outdoors. Take a walk on a local trail, bike to the park or play a game outside in the yard. Our girls enjoy kicking around soccer balls, playing tag, hide-and-seek and red light, green light. This is also a good time of the year to check out a neighborhood farmer’s market, go apple picking or visit a pumpkin patch.
  4. Play board games or do a puzzle. Even though our girls are young, we play games like Hi Ho Cherry-O, Chutes & Ladders and Candy Land. We also enjoy doing puzzles together on the floor in our sunroom. Almost all of our games and puzzles came from thrift stores. If you don’t have many games and puzzles, these can be great gift suggestions for relatives who ask!

These are just some ideas to get you started in taking some time to slow down with your family. I would love to hear how your family intentionally slows down, whatever the age of your children! My husband and I continue to make it a habit because that time is so refreshing to our family and reminds us of the joy of experiencing life together.

Best Ages: pre-k – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • When you reach the last page of Quiet in the Garden, ask your child to find all the animal friends who join the boy for a picnic.
  • Visit a local gardening center and buy some supplies to plant a flower or vegetable in a pot. Even though we live in the city, we have been able to grow cherry tomatoes and flowers in pots on the back steps of our apartment home. Our daughters particularly like to help with the watering and picking of the cherry tomatoes!

For Teachers:

  • Do a matching activity of the garden animals and the foods they eat as the boy observes what is happening around him in the garden. Print out free clipart and tape or hang with magnets on your board for the whole class to see.
  • Take your class outside and be nature observers. Set a timer for 1, 2 or 3 minutes depending on the age of your students and ask them sit to quietly and observe what is going on around them. Then sit in a circle as a class and share what you saw. Finish up the time by playing fun group games, such as freeze tag or red light, green light.

Rainforest Exploration!

We love animals in our home and almost daily sing songs such as “Old McDonald Had a Farm” to show off our phenomenal animal impersonations. But something about rainforest animals especially piques my daughters’ interest: they love the shows “Dora” and “Go Diego Go!” in part because of the exotic animals that are seen in the episodes.

That may be why my children and I fall more in love with The Umbrella by Jan Brett with each reading. This is a book that we own and reread often! As a certified teacher in Spanish and Elementary Education, I am thrilled by the simple Spanish language phrases scattered throughout the text and the social studies content found in the book. The plot is wonderful and mirrors the traditional Ukranian folktale Jan Brett retells in her well-known book The Mitten (another beloved book on our shelf which I will revisit when the weather turns colder). Each time we read The Umbrella, my kids can’t wait to turn the page and see what will happen next!

As you read aloud, try to make a new voice for each rainforest animal that appears in this wonderful book!

Best Age: kindergarten – 2nd grade

For Parents:

  • Retell the story together as you look back at the illustrations on each page. Which animal went in the umbrella first? Which was the biggest animal to land in the umbrella?
  • Explore online with the web links below for teacher use. Ask your child which animal interested him/her most. What did you learn that was new?

For Teachers:

  • As a pre-reading class activity, check out these videos that describe the lesser-known animals in The Umbrella: a baby tapir, a kinkajou and a quetzal.
  • Allow students to explore the rainforest through the interactive children’s activities found on the Rainforest Alliance’s website.
  • Make a prediction: What do you think will happen the next time Carlos returns to the “cloud forest”?