If we talk about nothing but trees for 5-6 weeks in kindergarten will the kids actually learn something?
They sure will – if you make it fun!
In this post I want to share some of my favourite tree activities I’ve done over the years with my kindergarten classes. Now, I’m saying over the years because, in all honesty there are some things I do every year, but I do switch it up a lot because, well…I get bored! If you’ve ever met me in person you know I get easily distracted! (one of my teaching partners gave me a can cozy that says “easily distracted by shiny objects” and that is 💯 % accurate!).
I did a previous post (back in 2016!) about leaves with the intention of doing a follow up post about trees…but if you’ve been reading my blog (hello all 7 of you!) you know that that didn’t happen! So now, I’m doing the follow up and talking about how I teach about trees as learning about trees is a part of our Kindergarten Science curriculum. I often teach about trees in two parts. In the fall we talk about how trees change colour with the season and lose their leaves; then in the spring we go more in depth. We talk about the life cycle of the tree and why trees are important and so on. So! This post is all those lovely things! Sadly I am missing pictures of some stuff because many of these activities I’m teaching and therefore can’t take pictures!
I start up my tree unit differently every year! Some years I start with putting out tree parts for the students to explore. Other years, I start with the things that come from trees. Sometimes we go for a walk and look at the different types of trees we can see in our community. This year, our school is starting a big community garden, so we planted some vegetables in our classroom and I used that as a starting out point for learning about trees. We talked about how they’re both plants and come from seeds (added bonus there is a great book that was perfect for showing how the vegetable seeds we planted and trees are similar!). I think in years to come I will do this again as the kids LOVED planting and watching our little seedlings grow.
With any big unit of study, I always start by putting out books related to the topic on our big book shelf a few days before we begin our learning. I find doing this peaks the kids curiosity. They always excited when I put out new books. This unit is also great for introducing Kindergarten students to the concepts of fiction and non-fiction, we did a lot of talking about what those two words mean and how to tell the difference. Now, when I read a book to the class I often have someone ask me if it’s fiction or non-fiction. With some of the non-fiction (like the Eyewitness series books), I tend to just read an excerpt as those books are massive!
I’m a bit of a book junkie and have been collecting books for my whole career. That being said, there are limitations to how many books I can store, so I always take advantage of our school library and borrow a stack of books from there.
Here’s a list of some of my favourite tree books:
- The Giving Tree – Shel Silverstein
- Stuck & the Great Paper Caper – Oliver Jeffers
- A Tree is a Plant – Clyde Robert Bulla
- Tap the Magic Tree – Christie Matheson
- A Grand Old Tree – Mary Newell-DePalma
- A Log’s Life – Wendy Pfeffer and Robin Brickman
- The Busy Tree – Jennifer Ward and Lisa Falkenstern
- Picture a Tree – Barbara Reid
- Sky Tree – Elena Pasquali and Sophie Windham
- Be a Friend to Trees – Patricia Lauber and Holly Keller
- Tell Me, Tree: A Book All About Trees for Kids – Gail Gibbons
- The Apple Pie Tree – Zoe Hall
- Are Trees Alive? – Debbie S. Miller and Stacey Schuett
- Trees (beginner) – Lisa Gillespie
- Trees – Linda Gamlin
- Someday a Tree – Eve Bunting and Ronald Himler
- Oak Tree – Victoria Huseby
- An Oak Tree’s Life – Nancy Dickmann
- If You Hold a Seed – Elly McKay
Ok, I’m going to stop there, as this list could get VERY long! These are not all of the books I have out when I do my tree study, but they are the ones I could remember off the top of my head (and with a little help from google and amazon!). It’s a nice mix of fiction and non-fiction! I’m a big believer in having a variety of books for students to look at when we are learning.
Each week, we learn a new poem. It is a part of our daily routine and a great way to include a mini guided reading lesson every day! While we were learning about trees we learned a few tree poems. I have to admit that there weren’t a ton of great Kindergarten friendly poems out there. We found lots about apple trees and Christmas trees, but not a ton on just trees. We did find 2 tree poems (thanks to one of my team members!!) and used those, plus a couple poems about the seasons and spring! We used the poems I’m a little seed and Growth of a Tree. I have to admit, the second poem was tricky but a great learning moment – as we used it to search for words we knew!! And there were lots of sight words in that poem.
Seasonal Changes of Trees:
Every year I take my class out to draw “our tree”. We take our clipboards and markers outside, we side on the side walk and draw. I also take the students pictures with the tree, and we do this through all the seasons. Even in winter…though in the winter we just take a picture with the tree! For the drawing portion, I take a picture of just the tree, then I project it on our Epson board and we draw it from the warmth of our classroom (though I will admit before I had a SMARTboard or Epson – we went and sat in the snow and drew. It was always an adventure).
Now, I say we do this every year…but I have to admit it didn’t happen this year. Our school had some major renos that started in the summer and went right until February. Sadly, “our tree” was right in the middle of the construction zone. Now, you’re probably thinking, “why didn’t you just pick another tree?”. I could have, however I didn’t. Partially because I kind of forgot about it (whoops!) and also, the other trees in our school year (which were not in the construction zone) were all a) clumped together and therefore difficult for the kids to see the one tree we were drawing b) small/newly planted and therefore didn’t have the great crown of leaves the other tree had (or the awesome colour changes). So, we didn’t draw the tree this year. My plan is to resume the activity next year as I feel it’s a great way to relate our learning in the classroom to a real life things. For our tree drawings, I use a sheet like this for our sketching, but you could totally use what ever paper you have on hand! Our Tree in spring In our portfolios, I glue the picture of the student standing in front of the tree to the back of their tree drawing.
Even though this year, we did not follow the changes of our tree outside we did still do tons of talking about the seasonal changes of trees and read a bunch of books. One of our favourites this year was Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson.
This book reminds me or Press Here or Mix It Up! by Herve Tullet. It’s an interactive book – where the kids can do the “actions” while you read. If you haven’t read this book (or the Herve Tullet books) – youneeeeeeeeeeed to! My students were SO engaged in this story, that we used the book to create our own version of Cosmic Kids Yoga! The book follows a tree over the course of a year, so I added some yoga poses for each thing that happened to the tree (for example, when the wind blew the leaves off the tree we did some Pranayama breathing to be the wind, Locust to imitate the birds flying away, or just Tree Pose!). The kids loved doing the yoga along with the story, and when they would look at the book on their own time, they would often have one student read and direct the others to do the yoga poses!
Another fun way we looked at the way a tree changes over the year was in a morning tub. I love loose part exploration, so I gathered up different materials from my classroom to represent the different seasonal looks of a tree and added some tree trunks (these were cut out using our school Ellison die cut machine). The students had a blast creating different trees.
Life Cycle of a Tree
Now, for learning about the life cycle of a tree we read a TON of books! A Grand Old Tree and An Oak Tree’s Life are great for this! In addition to reading these books, we watched some great YouTube videos.
Sid the Seed is a great little story about how a tree grows from a seed.
My students were intrigued by this time lapse video of an acorn sprouting into a baby tree
I also recently learned about SciShow Kids from one of my teaching partners! It’s a great way for kids to learn about science in a kid friendly language (that isn’t dumbed down!)
We also took a closer look at different types of tree seeds – talking about what kinds of trees did we think came from these seeds (big or small) – there’s also an acorn on the tray but it’s blocked by the giant seed cone! A great book to read before this activity is If You Hold a Seed by Elly McKay.
The kids are always really curious about looking at the different tree parts, especially if there are magnifying glasses involved. I added a variety of different tree pieces (acorns, pine/seed cones, maple tree seeds (they are very delicate and sadly fell a part after a couple of days – they are the ones that spin like helicopters so the kids loved playing with those!), pieces of bark, small branches, and tree cookies/slices of tree trunks) into our discovery bin with different types of magnifying glasses and had the opportunity to investigate further during play time if they wanted to!
Parts of a Tree
In our discussions about trees, it was important we talk about the parts of the tree. As you saw above, we talked a lot about tree seeds. Are Trees Alive? is a great book that goes through the different parts of the tree, beyond the seeds, and what each part of the tree does. I love how the author makes the connection between people and trees – how we are all living things and how the different parts of the tree are similar to the different parts of our bodies.
This book is also amazing because it talks about trees from all over the world. I find the majority of tree books talk about Oak or Apple trees, don’t get me wrong, they’re great, but after awhile you want some more variety! My classroom is very multicultural (out of my 23, only 10 were born in Canada – of that 10, half of them are first generation Canadians!), so they loved when the book talked about trees from around the world! The illustrations are beautiful and so is the story. I borrow this book from our school library every year…it’s a personal favourite.
We also danced/sang along to this little song I found on YouTube to help learn the parts of the tree:
Products of Trees
Throughout our learning, we would hear in stories and videos about the things that came from trees. The students could name the obvious ones (like apples!) but some of the things that come from trees are a little less obvious. In my bin of tree stuff (I think only Kindergarten teachers have bins of tree stuff…) I have a collection of items that come (either wholly or in part) from trees. Telling students things that come from trees is good, but it is way more exciting when they get to see, smell, and touch stuff. I’ve done this activity two different ways, and both work well!
Method #1: hand each student a different object and then have them sort the items into two categories:
- Comes from a Tree
- Doesn’t come from a Tree
For this, I put down two hula hoops with labels of the two categories. The students take turns placing their object into one of the categories. When everyone is done I go through every object and tell them whether or not it comes from a tree.
Method #2: I put all the objects in a bag and pass the objects around the circle (like I do with our letter tubs), without telling the students anything about the objects. This may be my favourite way to do this, as it sparks a lot of curiosity and imagination. After all of the objects have made their way around the circle I ask the class to tell me what they think the objects have in common. Rarely does someone get it spot on, but some times we get close! The kids are shocked when they hear that everything comes in part from a tree! But it starts a great conversation about why trees are important (especially when we talk about the last item on the list)!
Here’s my list of “tree stuff” I pass around:
- wooden block
- rubber ball
- bottle of nail polish
- maple syrup
- bubble gum
- coffee grinds (in a bag)
- golf ball
- toilet paper (that one always causes major giggles)
- wrapping paper
- paper plate
- apple (I use a fresh one)
- egg carton
- rubber stamp
- tissue (like Kleenex)
- tooth picks
- a bottle of vanilla
- wall paper
- ziploc bag of air
After we talk about the different things that come from a tree we watch this little video:
It’s short and a quick overview of what products come from trees.
Throughout our learning we record what we are learning in our Tree book. I made these in Microsoft Publisher and left them very open ended as I wanted our writing to be authentic and connected to what we were talking about that day (I also did this because I don’t necessarily have a set order in which we learn about trees). Each students makes their own non-fiction book about trees that they get to take home to share with their families. The class had so much fun creating these books. We did all of the writing as a guided writing and drawing lesson. I’ve done this activity a few times and I love how each students books turns out differently!
I think that’s everything…I’m sure there is more we do, but at the moment that’s what I can remember! I hope you found something useful for your classroom. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below.
And as always, thanks for reading!