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.

Get Your Kids Interested in Science with Tractors

Sometimes a good book can get your child or students hooked onto a new concept. When I taught full-time, I enjoyed using literature to kick off different units and generate more interest in a particular study topic.

The book I’m posting on today has two attractive features. First, it’s a children’s book written and illustrated by a man!  (Have you noticed that women tend to dominate this arena?) Second, it is a book with unique illustrations. As a final bonus, I couldn’t help but notice the sweet dedication to his college art professor – an inspiration to all of us educators out there! 🙂

Big Tractor by Nathan Clement has computer graphic illustrations that further convey the enormity of the modern tractor machine. Simple text provides great information about the many types of work a large modern tractor completes in various seasons. This book would be a good read-aloud to introduce unit on agriculture, large machines or plant life. Check out some of my ideas below to explore with your child or students!

Best Ages: pre-k – 1st grade

For Parents:

  • Make a tractor craft out of painted popsicle sticks or this super cute keepsake that uses your child’s footprint as part of the tractor.
  • Purchase grass seeds and plant them in a plastic cup with potting soil. Water and place next to a window. Allow your child to make observations about how long it takes to grow. You can even try cutting the grass when it gets long enough!

For Teachers:

  • Play the “Farmer in the Dell” game with your students in the gymnasium or outside. If you’d like to teach your students the song or play it in the background, here is one of many versions of the song on YouTube, featuring a farmer on a tractor.
  • Plan a field trip to a farm or a local children’s museum with a farming exhibit. (We have visited two locations in the midwest that have fun, hands-on exhibits relating to agriculture!)
  • To further explore how crops grow, take a day of science to implement this free lesson from Scholastic titled “From Plant to Seed.”

Snowflakes and Science

Happy February! Is it snowing where you live? If so, you may enjoy reading Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin.

As a child growing up in Vermont in the 19th century, Willie Bentley was extremely curious about the world around him. That curiosity was heightened when he looked at snowflakes under a microscope and discovered that no two snowflakes were alike. When he was 17 years old, Willie’s parents parents decided to use their life savings to purchase him a state-of-the-art microscopic camera. From that point on, Willie Bentley dedicated his life to exploring nature and sharing his discoveries with the world.

Willie Bentley’s biography provides an outstanding example to children today of creativity, dedication and perseverance. The book also features wonderful sidebar notes for adults, teachers or older students to read to themselves for further information on Willie Bentley’s scientific work.  A black-and-white photograph of Mr. Bentley is featured at the end of the book, along with 3 breathtaking samples of the photographs he took of snowflake crystals.

On top of all that, the book won the the Caldecott Medal in 1999 for its incredible illustrations.

Snowflake Bentley is an excellent choice for a read-aloud or to incorporate in a unit on biographies, weather or science.

Note: As a biography, the book does explain that Willie died at the age of 66 years old of pneumonia. If you are uncomfortable discussing the subject of death with your children or students, you can skip the last 2 pages.

Best Ages: 1st grade – 4th grade

For Parents:

  • After reading the book together, explain the character trait of “perseverance.”  How did Willie Bentley show perseverance? Is there a time in your life when you displayed perseverance that you can share with your child?
  • For younger children, make snowflakes out of folded coffee filters. Hang them up with clear fishing line in your child’s bedroom.

For Teachers:

  • After reading the book together, discuss the word “perseverance.”  How did Willie Bentley show perseverance? How can you?
  • For 1st and 2nd graders, make snowflakes out of folded coffee filters. Display on a bulletin board and point out to students that each one is different.
  • For 3rd and 4th graders, post questions about the book around classroom. Number each question. Instruct students to number a page in their notebooks and walk around to look at each question – doesn’t have to be in order – and write down the answers. (If you’ve never tried this kind of movement in a review, divide your students into groups and set a time for 1 minute. Call out when it’s time to rotate.) Review answers to the questions as a class.
  • For 3rd and 4th graders, create a timeline of Willie’s life.  You may want students to refer to this Smithsonian webpage. Then ask students to illustrate the part of his life or scientific work they found most interesting.
  • Show this PBS video on The Science of Snowflakes.