Keywords: forest products, tree life cycles, forest habitat, forest ecology, stewardship; Lesson Plan Grade Level: 3-5 year olds; Total Time Required: Introductory Activity 30 minutes and Ongoing project investigation timeline variable; Setting: Classroom, outdoors on campus walks

Goals for the Lesson

Since the Child Development Laboratory will soon be moving to a new building currently under construction in the Hort Woods, we are interested in beginning to explore the topics of forest resources and ecology. As a first step in this investigation, I am planning to use an inquiry approach with the children, finding out what they already know about forests and what questions they have. This will, in turn, direct the course of our emergent curriculum project. I will read a selection of age-appropriate children's literature to guide our discussions. We will also use a hands on investigation approach in the outdoor environment using our new "science explorer" backpacks which contain binoculars, magnifying lenses, bug collection jars, field guides and notebooks.

Some possible questions for discussion

  • What do trees need to live? What is their life cycle?
  • Is it okay to cut down trees?
  • What products in our classroom come from trees?
  • How can we reduce, reuse and recycle paper more carefully in our classroom?
  • What animals live in a woodland habitat?
  • How many different kinds of trees are on our playground? How many trees will be our new playground at the Hort Woods? Why is it called Hort Woods?
  • What can we observe in the woods with our science explorer backpacks? * How can we take care of and enjoy our new building and its "community forest"?
  • What do arborists do? Why have they been cutting branches from the trees on our playground? (Possibly invite Derek Kalp, Penn State Arborist, to visit.)
  • What does our new building look like now as construction progresses?
  • How can we use a variety of natural materials and art tools to represent our learning?

Subjects Covered: Scientific Thinking, Mathematical Thinking & Expression, Language & Literacy, Creative Expression, Social Studies

Topics Covered: Trees as Habitat, Trees as Resources, Community Forests as Places to Enjoy and Protect

Materials Needed

Our Science Explorer backpacks and tools described above A Selection of Children's Literature and nonfiction resources

  • Be a Friend to Trees by Patricia Lauber
  • A Grand Old Tree by Mary Newell DePalma
  • Quiet in the Garden by Aliki
  • Counting on the Woods by Geroge Ella Lyon
  • Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing Animal Habitats by Jim Arnosky
  • The World's Largest Plants: A book about trees by Susan Blackaby
  • Forest Explorer: A Life-Size Field Guide by Nic Bishop
  • From The Woods: Incredible Wood by Sanford S. Smith, and Lee R. Stover

State Standards Addressed:

PA Learning Standards for Early Childhood - Pre-Kindergarten (2009)
Scientific Thinking & Technology: Exploring, Inquiry and Discovery

  • Recognize the difference between living and nonliving things
  • Categorize common living things into plants and animals
  • State that living things need air, food and water to survive
  • Identify that plants and animals have life cycles
  • Identify parts of living things
  • Identify that plants and animals have different kinds of parts
  • Use the five senses as tools with which to observe, classify, collect information and describe observations

Teaching Model: Emergent curriculum, with student inquiry and hands-on learning


Activity 1 - Introducing the Lesson/Investigation

Gather a basket of wood products such as blocks, paper, puzzles etc. from our classroom. Include some surprising items such as toothpaste, shampoo, maple syrup and ice cream--using the photos presented in Incredible Wood .

See if children can figure out what all these items have in common. Use this as a discussion starter to talk about what products come from trees. Using chart paper, document the various stages of our ongoing investigation beginning with "What we already know about trees." Write down the children's responses. In addition, allow opportunity for the children to ask questions to guide our investigation "What we want to find out about trees and woodlands." Give the children access to our classroom digital cameras to document their learning about trees, beginning with photographing as many items in our classroom as we can find that are made from trees.


Using the children's questions and interests as a guide, and drawing from the children's literature cited, document the children's observations and comments about what they are learning. Create an ongoing display of this learning on a large 3-D tree--previously made from cardboard tubes that is located just outside our classroom entrance. This display will include photos and artwork, as well as quotations from the children.

Literature/Sources Cited

Aliki, Quiet in the Garden, Green Willow Books, (2009).

Arnosky, Jim, Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing Animal Habitats, Simon & Schuster (1997).

Bishop, Nic, Forest Explorer: A Life-Size Field Guide, Scholastic, (2004).

Blackaby, Susan, The World's Largest Plants: A Book About Trees, Picture Window Books (2003).

DePalma, Mary Newell, A Grand Old Tree, Arthur A. Levine Books (2005).

Lauber, Patricia, Be a Friend to Trees, Harper Collins, (1994).

Lyon, George Ella, Counting on the Woods, DK Publishing (1998).

Smith, Sanford, S., and Stover, Lee, R., From The Woods Series: Incredible Wood. Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences (2008)


Misty Wood, Penn State Child Development Laboratory/Preschool