Trees in Winter – Background

Mysteries abound in the winter woods. Besides animal tracks in the snow, we might find nipped-off twigs, gnawed branches, debarked trunks – signs made by animals feeding on trees in winter. To figure out which animal has been doing the eating, we often need to identify the tree species. But, without their leaves at this time of year, trees can be mysteries to us as well. Animals that feed on woody plants have no trouble recognizing which twigs, buds, and bark make the best meals, but for us identifying trees in winter requires a close look and attention to detail, the skills of a good detective.

At the tips of branches, twigs offer many clues to a tree’s identity. Take a closer Continue reading Trees in Winter – Background

Trees in Winter – Activities

FOCUS: Winter trees may look dead, but concealed in their buds are the beginnings of next year’s shoots, leaves, and flowers. Food is scarce in our winter woods, and for many animals the twigs, buds, and bark of dormant trees provide a welcome source of nutrition. Animals have no trouble recognizing which trees make the best meals, but for us identifying trees when their leaves are gone requires a close look and attention to detail, the skills of a good detective.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about trees in winter.

Ahead of time, cut twigs from a variety of trees including some that have alternate branching (e.g. elm, beech, oak, poplar) and some that have opposite branching (red maple, sugar maple, and ash). Make sure to cut twigs so they are long enough to show at least two years’ worth of growth. With maple and ash twigs, pick those that show opposite branching rather than just opposite bud scars, as these can be hard for children to see. Pass out a twig and a magnifying lens to each child. Ask them what they notice about the twigs. Also, what do they wonder about them? Make lists of their observations and questions on the board. Collect the twigs to use again later for Twig Dress-up and the journal activity.

Materials: variety of twigs showing at least two years of growth (one for each child), magnifying lenses.

Objective: To model the yearly cycle of growth and change in a tree branch.

Divide the class into groups of six to eight children with an adult leader. Give each child a Branch through the Seasons card showing a stage of twig development on an American beech branch. Continue reading Trees in Winter – Activities

Trees in Winter – Puppet Show

A Budding Detective

Characters: Harry Hare, Hawthorn Twig, Staghorn Sumac Twig, Basswood Twig, Cherry Twig, Sugar Maple Twig.

Harry Hare  I am a hungry hare! Now, what should I have for supper? Twigs and buds? A little bark? I’ve eaten all the evergreen twigs I can reach, but it’s hard to tell these bare twigs apart without their leaves. This is going to take some good detective work!

Hawthorn  Haw, haw, haw! You don’t need to be a detective to tell a hawthorn twig. You could find me with your eyes closed!

Hare  Yikes! Those are big thorns! I guess it is easy to tell a hawthorn by its twigs. Continue reading Trees in Winter – Puppet Show

Trees in Winter – Standards


The activities in this unit help children understand the basic concepts in the Disciplinary Core Ideas listed here. You can use the following list as a guide for lesson planning. These Disciplinary Core Ideas are taken from Grade Band Endpoints in A Framework for K-12 Science Education. Additionally, our activities give children opportunities to engage in many of the Science and Engineering Practices and reflect on the Crosscutting Concepts as identified in the Next Generation Science Standards. Continue reading Trees in Winter – Standards