Friday, October 17, 2014

Favorite Tree Hunt

Go on a “Favorite Tree Hunt” around your schoolyard or at a nearby park. Visit several trees, pointing out the bark types, leaves, seeds, and shapes. Let each child pick a “favorite tree”. Invite the children to share about their favorite tree and why they chose that particular tree.

Take pictures of the children and their favorite trees. Make a bark rubbing of the tree. Let the kids collect a leaf, seed, or twig from their tree.

Create a class Our Favorite Trees scrapbook showcasing the kids’ collections they gathered from their trees and the bark rubbings. Encourage each child to draw a picture of their favorite tree and tell why their tree is special.

Visit the “favorite trees” often, including in different seasons so the kids can see the differences.

Visit the Project Learning Tree website for a printable card you can share with parents to extend learning at home with family and friends.

Pound leaf pictures
Materials: hard wood surface; hammer with flat head; paper towels; paper or fabric (muslin) for printing; variety of leaves

Gently hammering a leaf releases its chlorophyll and makes a print of the leaf on cloth or paper. Layer, in this order, a thick small board, a paper towel, the fabric or paper on which you want to print, a leaf, and another paper towel. Begin by pounding lightly to release the color without bursting the plant cells to pieces. Lift up a corner and peak at the impression. Continue hammering if necessary. Display the pictures on a bulletin board and out of direct sunlight.

Reading Connections
Brenner, B. 1998. The Tremendous Tree Book. Boyds Mills Press.
Florian, D. 2002. Summersaults. Greenwillow Books.
Green, M.L. 2008. Underneath by Favorite Tree. PublishAmerica.
Iverson, D. 1999. My Favorite Tree: Terrific Trees of North America. Dawn Publications.
Jones, A. 2008. The Wish Trees. AuthorHouse.
Locker, T. 1995. Sky Tree: Seeing Science through Art. HarperCollins.
Romanova, N. 1992. Once There Was a Tree. Penguin Group (USA)
Ryder, J. 1991. Hello, Tree! Lodestar Books.

Sanders, S. 1997. Meeting Trees. National Geographic Society.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Camouflage Detectives

Many animals have special coloring, markings or physical features that help them blend in with their surroundings. Help your students become camouflage detectives and discover creatures hiding in plain sight around your schoolyard or a local park. How many expert hiders can you find?

Talk with your students about why animals are hard to see in nature. Ask children to describe the color, size and shape of different animals, such as squirrel, bird, turtle. Look for animals that live in trees. How are they different from animals that live in the water?  Why do some animals want to hide?  Can you find an animal that is hiding? 

Questions to probe:
What do you think might live in this area?
What color do you think they will be?
What size of creature might be here?
What do you think they need to stay alive?   

Many animals have physical features to scare away predators. In the spirit of Halloween, explore some of these “costumes” with students. Invite students to use the animal inspiration to design their own “scary” outfits. Whether they simply draw their designs or actually create them, stage a fashion show in which they explain their idea and the animal defenses that inspired it.

Camouflage Adventures
Can you find the Mitten Game?
Play a hiding game with a bright colored mitten. Have one student cover their eyes. Hide the mitten. The class helps guide the “finder” using their body language…..COLD: close to the floor, means you are not near the mitten.  WARM: hands to the ceiling, means you are getting close to the glove.  Was it easy to find the bright mitten?

Let’s try a dark mitten. Play the game again and compare. Was it harder to find the dark mitten?  Would a clear glove be hard to find? If you were an animal would you want to be easy for find? What would you wear if you were in front of your school?

Hide and Seek
Encourage children to bring in old T-shirts. Take art supplies outside and let children decorate the shirts. Challenge some to use a bright color and others to try to create patterns and colors that would blend in with the local environment. When the shirts are dry, have children pull them on over their clothes, and play a game of hide-and-seek. Which children are easiest to find?

Reading Connections
Barrett, J. 1988. Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing. Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Dell, P. J. 2006. Why Do Tigers Have Stripes? A Book about Camouflage. Capstone Press.
Fredericks, A. D., and K. Povelite. 2000. Clever Camouflagers. T&N Children’s Publishing.
Gilpin, D. 2010. 3-D Close Up: Animal Camouflage. Advantage Publishers Group.
Goodman, S. E. and M. Doolittle. 2001. Claws, Coats, and Camouflage: The Ways Animals Fit Into Their Worlds. Lerner Publishing Group.
Heller, R. 1992. How to Hide a Butterfly: and other insects. Penguin Group Inc (USA).
Heller, R. 1995. How to Hide a Meadow Frog: and Other Amphibians. Penguin Group (USA).
Helman, A., and G. Jecan. 2008. Hide and Seek: Nature’s Best Vanishing Acts. Walker & Company.
Kalman, B.  2010. How do animals hide? Crabtree Publishing Company.
Lionni, L.  2000. A Color of His Own. Random House Children's Books.
Otto, C. and M. Lloyd. 1996. What Color is Camouflage?. HarperCollins Publishers.
Pledger, M. 2004. Hiding in the Woods: A Maurice Pledger Nature Trails Book. Silver Dolphin Books.
Rustad, M. 2009. Animal Camouflage in the Forest. Capstone Press.
Tildes, P. L. 2000. Animals in Camouflage. San Val.
Whitehouse, P. 2003. Hiding in a Forest. Demco Media.

Wood, A. J., and N. Palin. 1996. Hidden Pictures: Find a Feast of Camouflaged Creatures. Lerner Publishing Group.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Fall Trees For Kids Grants Awarded

Trees For Kids will fund 17 different projects totaling $67,000 to give more than 1,400 students hands-on experience planting 639 trees, and learning about the benefits that trees can bring to Iowa schools and communities.  

Each planting event will have an educational component with the students which include a planting demonstration. More than 225 adult volunteers will assist at the planting events, and given training to assist student with proper planting. Project Learning Tree training is provided to educators to create lesson plans and utilize curriculum with the planted trees. 

Grants are awarded to the following schools and groups: Chariton Housing Authority, Charles City High School; Clinton CSD; Decorah High School; Denison Arbor Committee; Durant Elementary, Sumner; City of Eddyville; Gilmore City; City of Milo; Ottumwa CSD – Liberty Elementary; City of Pleasant Hill; Roland-Story FFA; City of Sergeant Bluff; Clark Elementary, Sioux City; City of Slater; South Tama County FFA; and Woodbine Community Foundation. 

Forty-two different species will be planted throughout the state to help provide diversity to Iowa’s urban forests.  

The environmental impact of planting trees can now be quantified using a USDA Forest Service Tool called i-tree design.  This tool was utilized on each grant to determine energy benefits, stormwater runoff reduction, and carbon sequestration for the useful life of the trees.  It is available at 

The useful life is estimated at 60 years, and crown growth modeling over the lifespan of the trees is utilized to provide accurate and increasing benefits over the lifespan of the tree.

Over their 60 year lifespan, these trees will save more than 189,000 kilowatt hours of electricity by shading buildings and more than 54,600 therms by slowing down winds and reducing building heat loss.  

Those trees will help reduce flooding throughout by intercepting over 38,700,000 gallons of storm water and will reduce over 9,000,000 pounds of atmospheric carbon dioxide through CO2 sequestration and decreased energy production needs and emissions.  

Trees planted around schools and in neighborhoods have also shown to give youth increased levels of concentration, lower levels of aggression, lower levels of obesity, and fewer symptoms of ADHD.  

Communities are made more livable by having a healthy, diverse tree canopy.  

The Trees for Kids and Trees for Teens grant program is funded by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Forestry Bureau, MidAmerican Energy, Black Hills Energy, Alliant Energy, Iowa Bankers Association, Trees Forever, Iowa Tree Farm Committee, and the Iowa Woodland Owners Association.

For information about how to apply for a spring Trees For Kids grant, go to our website or contact the grant coordinator at

Monday, September 29, 2014

Who Lives in a Tree?

Fall is a perfect time to explore where the squirrels and birds live within the tree branches. For more activities to get kids outside exploring this fall, visit our Early Childhood Classroom Resources webpage.

Ask the children to describe their homes.
  • What materials make up your house?
  • What rooms do you have in your house?
  • What do you do in your house?
  • Where do you eat and sleep?
  • To you have a yard to play in?

Explain that animals and plants have homes, too.  Using a tree or picture of a tree, ask:  Have you ever seen an animal using a tree as its home or habitat?  What animals have you seen eating or sleeping in a tree?

Create a ven diagram comparing the children’s houses to animal houses. Make a dictation on chart paper with each child listing an animal or plant they have seen in or on a tree. Talk about the animals on your chart and encourage the children to describe their personal experiences they have had with any of those listed.  As you talk about each animal, ask the children to make the animal’s voice. 

Tree Walk
Go on a tree walk to find examples of animals and plants that depend on trees in your schoolyard or surrounding neighborhood. Look for:
  • animals (e.g. squirrels, birds, insects) living in tree holes or nests, hiding from predators, eating tree fruits, perching or nesting in tree branches
  • vines climbing up tree trunks to seek and soak up sunlight
  • lichens growing on bark
  • mushrooms growing on dead or dying trees
  • snags or fallen trees providing homes for many animals and plants

Investigate a few trees up close - collect some of the fallen objects. Take pictures of things that are too large to collect or are still attached to the tree.
  • look around for fallen bark, fruits, leaves, nuts, seeds or twigs that might show signs of animal or plant life
  • look on the ground for animal droppings that show animals live in the tree or eat the tree’s fruits or seeds. Look- don’t touch!
  • look on the bark for scratch marks caused by sharp claws or antlers.

Write a class book about animals that live in trees.  Encourage children to choose an animal that they have seen in a tree.  Children can add a page to the book by making a drawing of the animal in the tree and dictating text about how their animal uses the tree (e.g., for a home, for sleeping, eating, protection, etc.) 

Visit the Project Learning Tree website for a printable card you can share with parents to extend learning at home with family and friends.

Reading Connections
Allen, J. and S. Mendez. 2009. Animal Homes. Kingfisher.
Bishop, Nic. 2004. Forest Explorer: A Life-Size Field Guide. Scholastic, Inc.
Brenner, B. 2004. One Small Place in a Tree. HarperCollins Publishers.
Canizares, S. 1997. Who Lives in a Tree? Scholastic, Inc.
Gregoire, E. 2004. Whose House Is This?: A Look at Animal Homes. Capstone Press.
Hoberman, M. A. and B. Fraser. 2007. A House is a House for Me. Penguin Group (USA).
Hutchins, P. 1990. Good-Night, Owl! Aladdin.
Lock, D. 2007. Animals at Home. DK Publishing, Inc.
Lyon, G. 1998. Counting on the Woods. DK Children.
Magellan, M. 1990. Home At Last. Humanics Children's House.
Milbourne, A. 2014. Peek Inside Animal Homes. EDC Publishing.
National Geographic Society. 1987. Animal Architects. National Geographic Society.
Peck, J. and V. Petrone. 2005. Way Up High in a Tall Green Tree. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.
Robinson, T. 2000. Tobias, the Quig and the Rumplenut Tree. Winslow Press.
Salas, L. 2006. Do Turtles Sleep in Treetops?: A Book About Animal Homes. Capstone Press.
Schwartz, D. 1999. In a Tree. Gareth Stevens Publications.
Udry, J. 1987. A Tree Is Nice. HarperCollins Publishers.
Van Laan, N. 2000. A Tree for Me. Random House Children's Books.

Ward, J. 2005. Forest Bright, Forest Night. Dawn Publications.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Discovering Trees

Fall is a great time to get outside and explore trees. Before heading outside, ask your students the following:
  • Do you have trees at your house?
  • Do you like playing in the leaves?
  • Do you have a favorite tree?
  • Is there one kind of tree or are there many kinds?
  • Where are trees located?
  • Can you name different types of trees?  
  • What colors of leaves do you see on trees?

Go on a leaf walk around the school or to a local park. Give each child a brown paper bag to gather fall leaves and nuts. Create a “tree mural” with the kids’ collection - draw a very large tree trunk with branches and allow children to decorate branches with their leaf collection.

Decorate your classroom with sponge painted trees - each child draws a tree trunk and branches on a white piece of paper and using odd sponge shapes (dipped into fall colored paint) bounce the sponges onto the tree branches they drew. 

Tree Themed Games
Make Applesauce 
Lay a long jump rope into a circle which will represent the pot.  Tell the children they are the apples. Call a color of an apple and if a child is wearing clothing that color they may jump into the pot. Talk about when you turn up the heat, the apples start to bubble. Pretend to turn the heat up and down.  The children move around faster as the heat goes up and as the apples simmer they children slow down.  You can also pretend to stir the pot so the children move in one direction in a circle.

Tree Trunk Shuffle

Arrange carpet pieces (1 less than the number of students) in a circle. Alternating students are assigned names of Iowa native trees (e.g., hickory, cedar, boxelder, maple, oak, walnut). Call out the name of one or more trees and those students assigned that tree/trees must move to a new carpet square. If you yell out “Tree Trunk Shuffle,” all students must move to a new carpet square.

Leaf Tic-Tac-Toe
Make the tic-tac-toe grid from sticks (or draw it in the dirt). Each player picks five of the same leaf of his or her playing pieces. Now you’re ready to play tic-tac-toe with two different types of leaves instead of Xs and Os. Three of the same leaf in a row wins.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Wildlife is Everywhere!

Wildlife is everywhere- on land, in soil, in water, and in the air. Wildlife scientists study wildlife to learn how they live and interact with the environment. These scientists may focus on one wildlife species or a group of species during their studies. They record observations made with their senses and other tools.

Help your kids become wildlife scientists

Lead our students on a walk in the neighborhood around your school or building or a nearby park to look for wildlife. Tell students that they are using their eyes and ears to watch and listen for any signs of animal life (animal movement, calls, tracks, tunnels, droppings, etc.). Help your students record their observations - drawing pictures of the animals and the places where you found them.
  • Where do you see wild animals?
  • What are the animals doing?
  • How do the animals react?
  • What signs of animals do you see?

Encourage your students to pretend they are trying to observe wildlife in different habitats like wildlife scientists do.
  • Crawl through a small cave to observe a bat
  • Wade through a marsh to get closer to a beaver’s dam
  • Hike through woods thick with trees and vines looking for a woodpecker

Talk a walk outside to practice listening for wildlife sounds. Stop often and have children close their eyes. Ask them to raise a finger when they hear a new sound.
  • How many new sounds did you hear?
  • Can you hear better with your eyes closed?
  • Did you hear any sounds made by wildlife?

Field biologists often get down on their hands and knees to "mimic" the tracks they see to help identify the animal and understand what it was doing at that particular moment. Have your students imitate the movements of wildlife.

  • Raccoon - students get on their hands and knees and move from one spot to another, investigating the path they take
  • Deer - students gather as a group, each looking in a different direction; students walk away then run and jump
  • Insect - pairs of students work together to move all the "legs" at the proper time
  • Bobcat - students get on their hands and knees and slowly move one leg and arm at a time as they stay as close to the ground as possible

Visit the Growing Up WILD website for a printable card you can share with parents to extend learning at home with family and friends.

Music and Movement Connections
Wildlife Charades 
Cut out pictures of wildlife commonly found in Iowa and put into a hat. One at a time, each student pulls a out a picture from the hat. He/she must act out how that animal moves, looks, or acts in nature, while the other students try to guess what kind of animal it is. There can be no sounds, only actions.

This could also be a group activity. Students could work as teams and together act out the animal while the other team guesses what kind of animal it is.

Nature Boogie

Students work in small groups. Show students pictures of plants and animals commonly found in Iowa. As a group, students chose plants and animals and create a series of dance movements (e.g., horse trot, dog shake, bunny hop, frog leap, cat pounce, snake slither, grapevine). Groups perform their dance for the class. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Fall Fitness Day

Help your students stay active this school year participating in the annual Live Healthy Iowa Kids Fall Fitness Day – register today. Live Healthy Iowa Kids will award 25 - $100 mini-grants to support Fall Fitness Day activities at Iowa schools. Applications due September 12!

The activity options are endless for this fun day - check out these fun nature games that will get your students up and moving while learning about nature and wildlife.

Critter Crawl
Students compete as teams in a relay race. The first student in each line moves like the assigned animal to advance to each station. Each student completes the course.
Station 1 – slither like a snake
Station 2 – hop like a bunny
Station 3 – fly like a bird (flap arms)
Station 4 – walk like an elephant (legs straight, arms straight – extended in front)
Station 5 – gallop like a horse

Thumper in the Thicket
Arrange hula hoops across the playing area. Divide students into two groups: rabbits and foxes. Rabbits start on one side of the playing field and the foxes on the opposite side. At a signal the rabbits hop to the safe place (hula hoop) before getting tagged by a fox; there can only be two rabbits per safe place. If tagged by a fox, they become a fox. At the end of each round a safe place (hula hoop) is removed. Continue removing safe places until one remains.

Snake Tag
Designate one student as the snake tamer. Arrange the remaining students into groups of three or four. Each group forms a snake by holding onto the waist of the student in front of them. The student in front is the head of the snake and the student in back is the tail. Snakes must twist and turn to keep from losing their head. The snake tamer tries to catch the tail of one of the snakes and attach to it. If the snake tamer successfully attaches to a snake, the head must come off and become the new snake tamer. 

The Hungry Caterpillar
Scatter small balls or cones across the play area. Divide students into small groups. Each group is a hungry caterpillar searching for food. The first student in each group is the caterpillar’s head and the remaining students are the body. The last student carries a ball bag.

Caterpillars must travel around the play area in single file, holding onto the student in front of them. Each caterpillar must collect as much food (balls) as possible within the time limit (30 sec - 120 sec).

Only the head of the caterpillar can guide the body and only the head can pick up the food (one at a time) and pass it back through the body. The food must be passed to each student down the line (as in relay) to where it is collected in the caterpillar's stomach (ball bag).

Protect Your Harvest

Place 4 hula hoops in each corner of the playing area (make sure there is room around each side of the hula hoops for the students to move around them in a safe manner). Choose 4 students to be squirrels. Place a bucket in the middle with four bean bags. Each squirrel grabs a bean bag from the bucket and places it inside one of the hula hoops. Squirrels must stand outside the hula hoop and guard their nut (bean bag). The rest of the class moves around the hula hoops, trying to steal the nuts. Squirrels try to tag the thieves and stop them from stealing their nut. If a thief is tagged, he/she must move to the next hula hoop. If a thief successfully steals the bean bag without being tagged, he/she becomes the new squirrel. The old squirrel joins the rest of the class and tries to steal the nuts.