Living Arbor Day Legacies

By Eve Pranis

"Our school property was much in need of shade," says Omaha, NE, parent Sarah Newman. "While doing some Internet research on trees, I discovered the American Forests: Famous and Historic Trees catalog, which features young trees representing important people and events from the past." Sarah and classroom teachers considered how they might integrate such trees into their social studies and other curricula, then chose appropriate subjects for each grade: a Johnny Appleseed apple tree for kindergarten, a President Lincoln log cabin oak for first grade, and a pecan used by local Indians as a "marker tree" for fourth grade, for example.

"Arbor Day seemed like a perfect opportunity for launching this project and building our own and community awareness of trees," says Sarah. Students envisioned a community celebration, with each grade taking responsibility for part of the event. Reading, writing, and research were requisite. During the well-promoted celebration, each grade planted its piece of history, then showcased the activity they'd planned. Kindergartners made time capsules and buried them near their apple tree. Older grades did tree-related readings. Sixth graders filmed a video about trees, complete with background music, tree wisdom, and whimsical scenes. Older kids also gave tours of the school garden and neighborhood trees using a map they'd developed.

The celebrations culminated with an Arbor Day fair featuring a student-created tree game; crafts, such as tree branches covered with tissue paper flowers (representing forced buds); a giveaway of seedlings donated by a local natural resource agency; a birdhouse sale; and a video showcase featuring "The Man Who Planted Trees" and American Forests' "Silent Trees." "Planning for and executing the event was a big deal for kids and a great way to engage the community," explains Sarah.

Consider how you could use Arbor Day and Earth Day (April 22) as a focal point for tree-related projects. Each state also has its own official Arbor Day, which is listed on the National Arbor Day Foundation Web site: arbordaydates.html.

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