Arbor Day is an annual celebration of trees and their importance. Trees have appeared throughout history as a symbol of life. Today, classrooms across the nation celebrate Arbor Day by having students partake in a variety of activities that celebrate trees.

What is Arbor Day?

Arbor Day is an annual observance that celebrates planting and protecting trees. It was first observed in Nebraska in 1872. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, it was initially celebrated on April 22nd, which is Sterling Morton’s birthday – one of the first pioneers to plant trees and spread agricultural information and enthusiasm. Today, Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April.

Arbor Day Classroom Activities

Whether students are learning from home or in the classroom, students can celebrate Arbor Day by partaking in tree-related activities that cross over to all subjects. Here are a few ideas.

Social Studies – Learn about the History of Arbor Day

Students can learn about the history of Arbor Day by reading an interactive history book by the National Arbor Day Foundation. Epic! is an excellent site with thousands of books for students ages 5-12. It’s also free for schools to use. Students can use this amazing site to research how other countries and cultures celebrate this day. For example, they can learn that China celebrates on March 12th and remembers a leader named Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who believed planting more trees would make for a better environment for China. The United Kingdom celebrates in November and has a national tree week where people plant and care for trees all week long.

Science – Learn to Identify Trees

Another great way to celebrate Arbor Day is to take a nature walk. Older students can learn how to identify trees by using this tree identification finder, and younger students can use this tree identification worksheet. Then, students can choose one specific tree to study the ecosystem. They can also explore the structure, how it functions, as well as what benefits the tree provides for the environment.

Math – Measurements and Tree Rings

Trees grow in height and width, and as they grow, you’ll see growth rings. Students can count the rings on a stump to help them figure out the age of the tree. This worksheet shows elementary students how to count the rings on a stump, while this worksheet tests students’ knowledge of how well they know the correct ages of a tree.

Students can also measure the height of a tree. All you need for this outdoor STEM activity is two people, a pencil, and a measuring tool like a meter stick or measuring tape.

English – Write about Trees

Once students have learned about the history of trees as well as learned how to identify and measure them, now they can take that information and write about trees. They can create a poem or essay or even make up a song using the facts they’ve learned. Another idea is to write a description of a tree they identified on their walk to see if another student or family member at home can identify the tree by their description. Lastly, students can write a letter to their community leaders thanking and supporting them for their tree planting efforts.

Art – Make Bark Rubbings

When you were a child, you probably remember collecting leaves from the ground and taking them home to make leaf rubbings with a crayon and a piece of paper. A bark rubbing is very similar. Students peel off the paper of a crayon, then press a thin piece of paper against the bark of a tree and rub the crayon on the paper until the bark shows through. Once students have made a few different bark rubbings, they can compare them and discuss the patterns and try and figure out which type of tree they came from using the knowledge they gained from their science lesson on identifying trees.

School-Wide Observance to Plant a Tree

Schools across the nation celebrate Arbor Day in a variety of different ways, with the most popular way being planting trees. Students can buy a tree seedling at their local nursery, then follow the guide from the Arbor Day Foundation on how to plant a tree.

Acknowledging Arbor Day is important because it brings awareness of the importance of trees and the environment. Encourage those around you to plant a tree or partake in an environmental-friendly celebration.

Arbor Day Virtual Activities

Looking for ways to celebrate Arbor Day virtually? Here you will find resources and ideas for every subject to help keep the Arbor Day spirit going strong.

Social Studies – Go on a Virtual Field Trip

Take your students on a virtual field trip to a forest around the globe. Students will get a first-hand view of the varying forest habitats that will help them learn about specific trees and areas in the forest. Students can take a virtual tour of the Redwood Forest in California or go on an interactive trip to a forest in Finland where students can click on icons to learn specific facts about what they are viewing.

Once they have taken the virtual forest tours, they can create their own by using images and videos from around their neighborhood and community, as well as incorporate the history of trees and tree facts from the Arbor Day Foundation website. Then students can use this information to help them create a Flipgrid presentation or use the multimedia tool Sway to share their facts and findings.

Science – Grow a Bean in a Bag

An easy, virtual science experiment students can do right from the comfort of their home is to grow a bean in a bag. All students need are a few beans from their kitchen (lentil, kidney, pinto). To begin, instruct students to dampen a paper towel and fold it so it fits into a sandwich baggie.

Next, have students add their beans to their baggie on top of the paper towel. Seal the bag shut, and instruct students to leave the baggie on the counter to observe how it changes over the next few weeks. Students will take notes of the changes and after a few weeks they can transfer it to some soil and watch to see if it continues to grow.

Math – Understand the Dollar Value of a Tree

Around Arbor Day in some states, you may see a value tag on trees in your local community. These tags are intended to help people understand the dollar value as well as the benefits of a specific, individual tree. Challenge students to go outside of their home and choose one tree to identify and learn the dollar value tag. They can then use the National Tree Value Benefit Calculator to help them.

Before they can figure of the value tag, they must first input their zip code, the species of the tree, and the tree’s diameter – which they must calculate by measuring the circumference and then using a formula to determine the diameter.

Once students have the information, they will learn the overall benefits of the tree, the storm water, property value, energy, air quality, and CO2 of the tree. For example, a 30-in diameter Ash tree in the Sanborn, NY zip code would provide $265 dollars a year in overall benefits; and if it’s cared for and grows to 35 inches, it can provide $295 in annual benefits.

English – Enter a Poe-Tree Contest

Students can celebrate the glory of trees by entering in a virtual poetry contest or, as the Urban Forestry in DC calls it, Poe-Tree contest. Students can create any poem they wish as long as it’s original and highlights the benefits that trees provide.

To enter, students can submit online at the District Poe-Tree Contest website. The prizes for the contest are pretty cool. Students can win a tree-planting or have a recycled urban wood bench installed at a school or park of their choice. Runner-up prizes for each category include tree cookies made from recycled city trees.

Art – Have a Virtual Arbor Day Poster Contest

Challenge students to create an original poster depicting a specific Arbor Day theme of your choice. For example, last year’s New York State Department of Agriculture held a poster contest for Arbor Day and their theme was “Trees Feed New York”. Challenge students to think of their own theme for the contest and vote on the most popular. Make sure that the theme aims to promote the value and benefits of trees.

*Updated April 2021