What is Arbor Day?
Arbor Day is an international holiday that fosters an appreciation of trees and their important value in our lives. This Arbor Day for Kids unit will provide a history of this holiday, worksheets, vocabulary words, and classroom activities for students. The first Arbor Day held in the United States took place in Nebraska back on April 10, 1872. It was founded by J. Sterling Morton, who was a newspaper editor at the time. He and his wife were nature lovers, and Morton used his platform at the newspaper to share his love of trees. Nebraska was not a heavily wooded state; it’s flat and open. So he taught his readers about planting trees to prevent soil erosion, provide shade, and to use as fuel and building materials.
Morton convinced the State Board of Agriculture to support a statewide holiday, which he called Arbor Day. He injected a little competition into the day by challenging counties and individuals to plant trees and offered prizes for those who planted the most. It is believed that more than a million trees were planted on that first Arbor Day in the U.S.
Check out our printable Arbor Day poems, too!
Over the next decade, other states began to celebrate Arbor Day. More than 30 years later, conservationists asked President Theodore Roosevelt to speak to public school children about the issue of conservation and forestry. Roosevelt agreed and in 1907, he issued an “Arbor Day Proclamation to the School Children of the United States” about the importance of trees and that forestry deserves to be taught in U.S. schools.
Arbor Day Around the World
But Arbor Day didn’t start in America. For centuries, various cultures have celebrated trees. In fact, the first known arbor plantation festival actually took place in 1594 in the Spanish village of Mondoñedo. And in 1805, the first modern Arbor Day event happened in the small Spanish village of Villanueva de la Sierra when a local priest – don Juan Abern Samtrés – planted the first tree with a large group of people from the community and then celebrated with a festival and more tree planting that lasted three days. He then wrote letters encouraging nearby towns to do the same.
Today, more than 40 countries around the world have Arbor Day celebrations. However, the date on which they celebrate it varies and depends on the season.
Arbor Day Activities for Kids
Help your students better understand Arbor Day with these activities:
Wood is a major product that is the basis of thousands of other items. Challenge your students to create a list of products that use wood or other tree products (think sap, leaves, bark, etc.). Encourage them to look around their homes, classrooms, and other places.
Activities: Print our tree product worksheet and give each student a copy. Have them write their list down on it and then compare each one. Older children can take this a step further and research lumber statistics for the United States.
Did you know that the national tree of the United States is the oak? And each state also has its own state tree.
Activity: Download our State Tree Worksheet and print off copies for your students. Have them research to find out what their official state’s tree is. Or, you can assign each student a different state and have them research to find out what is the official state tree for their assigned state.
There are many different species of trees that grow throughout the world. In fact, scientists have determined that there are more than 60,000 species of trees on the planet. Here in North America, we have a little less than 1,400.
Activity: Field trip! Time to go to your local park or nearby wooded area. Some classrooms may even just take their class outside to identify the tree species on their school property. Download our Local Tree ID activity sheet and print enough copies for each of your students. Give each student one copy and ask them to choose different trees and accurately identify it, filling out their activity sheet. If a seeing trees in person is not possible, we suggest collecting leaves and bringing them into the classroom for identification / matching.
Here are some tree identification books that you can order online or find in your local libraries:
- Fandex Family Field Guides: Trees by Steven Aronson (my favorite!)
- What Tree Is That?: A Guide to the More Common Trees Found in North America (Mom’s Choice Awards Recipient) by Arbor Day Foundation and Karina I. Helm
- Trees, Leaves, and Bark (Take-Along Guide) by Diane Burns
- The Sibley Guide to Trees by David Allen Sibley