Arbor Day Activities for Your Classroom

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.” We need our trees not only for the many things that we enjoy about them- recreation, fruit, shade, paper, structures, but also for their vast environmental contributions.  “Trees provide habitat for wildlife, clean the air we breathe, provide shade, reduce the damaging effects of wind, and limit erosion and contribute to a healthier environment,” according to the  DEP Acting Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe.  Where would our world be, without our trees? This April 28th, Arbor Day reminds us to appreciate the value of the tree, and urges us to replant the trees that we have used.

Here in New Jersey, Arbor Day is always celebrated on the last Friday of every April. As noted by the founder of Arbor Day, Sterling Morton,   “Arbor Day proposes for the future…Each generation takes the earth as trustees…We ought to bequeath to posterity as many forests and orchards as we have exhausted and consumed.” Arbor Day comes just a week after Earth Day (April 22, 2019), and comes with a similar message of caring for our earth, and preserving it for the next generation. This is a fun day for teachers to celebrate with their students. After all, what student (and teacher) doesn’t LOVE a spring afternoon outside! There are so many ideas for this day, no matter the grade level or subject that you teach! Check out the ArborDayFoundation for some ideas, and check out some options below:

Arbor Day Activities for Your Class

  • Have your kids complete a scavenger hunt for tree species, biggest tree, smallest tree, oldest tree, etc.
  • Invite students to sit under a tree and discuss how trees help us, and write poems or haikus about them.
  • Have students take a walk around the school and survey/map the trees on school property.
  • Review the history of Arbor Day and watch It’s Arbor Day Charlie Brown.
  • Have an Arbor Day Celebration Ceremony and plant a tree on school ground, or plant seedlings in the classroom for the students to take home and plant.
  • Hold an “Arbor Day Birthday Party” with tree themed games/crafts.
  • Offer a contest on an educational Arbor Day poster to teach other students about trees by placing them around the school.
  • You could even read a book, or ask students to make their own books about trees.

How to Get Free Trees

You might be wondering how to get trees to plant for Arbor Day. Many local counties offer free trees to schools, so check your local resources first! You can also get free trees just for being a New Jersey resident. The Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Parks and Forestry is making 90,000 free tree seedlings available to residents through the New Jersey Tree Recovery Campaign, an ongoing effort of the New Jersey Forest Service, the nonprofit Arbor Day Foundation and other partners. Towns are giving away bundles of 5 seedlings to residents to use however they would like (proof of residency may be required). Communities will receive species that grow well in their region. According to New Jersey Forest Service Chief Todd Wyckoff,  “the northern part of the state may receive sugar maple or black oak trees, while towns in the south may receive Atlantic white cedar… shore towns may include bayberry or beach plum.” Check out FreeTrees NJ for locations and times of the giveaways.

Tips for Planting

Once you have your seedling, try to plant it as soon as possible. Carefully choose a location, considering the size of the tree when fully grown, nearby structures, and the tree’s sun/shade needs. Moisten the roots before you plant it, and dig a hole 2-3 times bigger than the spread out roots. After the tree is in place, fill in the hole with loose soil, pack it down, and water it. Now you have accomplished your Arbor Day challenge, and can enjoy your tree year to year as it grows!

Jessica Cicalese Kurtz is a veteran middle school engineering and science teacher at Toms River Schools. She has experience as a curriculum developer, teacher trainer, and is a regular contributing writer for The Teachers’ Lounge.

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