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How Trees Work for Us - Take a Look!

SKILLS: Observing, gathering information, critical thinking and communication
OBJECTIVE: Students will learn how animals, people and our environment depend on the inconspicuous work of trees.

BACKGROUND:

It's easy to take trees forgranted. After all, it looks like they stand around and do nothing. But, in reality, they're very busy doing many jobs that are very essential.

Tree Houses.

Many animals, such as birds, squirrels, raccoons and a variety of insects, spend much of their lives in trees. These animals are born in trees, live in trees, raise their young in trees and seldom come down to the ground. Trees provide them shelter from the weather and from enemies. Trees provide food in the form of fruits, nuts, leaves, bark, and roots. Even dead trees provide shelter and food for many insects.

Birds Squirrels Raccoons Insects

So, What's a Tree Done for Me Lately?

We probably can't think of anyone who lives in a tree, but many of us live in wooden houses made from trees. Furniture and many other obvious items inside our homes are also made from wood.

All Kinds of Uses However, wood is not the only product that comes from trees. Practically every part of a tree is used to make some useful product. Ground up wood is used to make paper for magazines, newspapers, candy wrappers, and cereal boxes. Sap, the liquid that flows in trees, is used to make maple syrup, chewing gum, crayons, paint, and soap. Dyes and medicines are made from the bark, while leaves and roots provide oils for cosmetics and medicines.

The Food We Eat Not to be forgotten are the jobs that trees provide for people - loggers and tree planters, for example. All the products made from trees create many more jobs. Did you ever wonder who makes pencils or chewing gum?

Many types of trees provide food for people too. Apples, pears, peaches and cherries come from trees, as do nuts like walnuts and hazelnuts. Trees make our world a nicer place. Image your neighborhood without trees. Parks and campgrounds would certainly not be the same without trees. We all love the sight of trees.

We Can Thank the Trees for Clean Air and Clean Water

TreesThe quality of our environment - the air, soil and water - depends on the roles trees play. Trees help create rain as they expel moisture into the atmosphere: their roots draw it from the soil and their leaves return it to the air. Trees clean the air we breathe by taking in carbon dioxide through the leaves and then giving off oxygen we need to breathe. If trees didn't breathe, neither could we. Roots help hold soil in place to prevent erosion which not only saves soil, but also keeps our waterways cleaner. You may have observed that water is usually cleaner when there is an abundance of trees. Trees provide shade in the summer to help cool our homes. In the winter, they block wind to help warm our homes.

PROJECTS AND ACTIVITIES:

Have students draw or collect pictures of animals that live in or around trees, along with pictures of food they might eat. Older students could compile two matching lists of animals and tree foods. Lists could be combined on the chalkboard as the basis for a participatory classroom matching exercise.

Have each student draw a picture of their favorite product that comes from a tree. You may want to discuss some foods that students would not suspect are tree products such as cinnamon, mustard and olives. Students could also provide pictures of the food in its natural state and as part of a finished product - apple pie or maple syrup, for example.

Compile a chalkboard list, obtained from student responses, of items in the classroom that are made from trees. Don't overlook non-wood products such as crayons, paper, and paint. Discuss the parts of the tree that the products may have come from or the number of jobs that may have been required to make the product. Have the students copy the list and take it home to check their home for those and other wood products.

Demonstrate why we make products from wood - because it's strong, durable and easy to work with. Discuss with students useful things they could make with twigs and branches they find on the ground and string. Lead the students on a twig search, then actually construct some useful item (pencil holder, wreath or a picture frame). Students could also do this individually or in groups. Have each student describe or draw a favorite place where trees grow - or their favorite tree - or a favorite activity involving trees.

Have students discuss or actually plan a project with trees that would help improve the environment. Discuss how even one student could accomplish some part of this project.

EVALUATION:

Why do we plant trees in our yards? Are there places in the world where there are no trees? What are they like? How different are they from where you live? Would you consider living there? Why? How do people depend on trees?

VARIATIONS/EXTENSIONS:

Split up the class into three working groups. Students in the first group will draw or collect pictures concerning the relationship between trees and animals. The second group will focus on trees and people. The third group will be concerned with trees and the environment. When the pictures have been collected the groups should assemble them into three poster size collages with titles of their own choice.

Get individual students, or a group of students, to observe a tree closely for a period of time - fifteen minutes, for example. Students will then draw or compile a list of all the evidence of animal and insect activity they found, including actual activity involving birds, squirrels, and other animals; observed nests; evidence of animals eating (holes in leaves, piles of sawdust, bare branches or empty fruit pods); etc.

Get individual students, or groups, to create and answer their own "what if" questions. Examples might include: "If birds didn't have trees; where would they live?" "If we didn't have wood; what would we make houses from?" or "If there were no trees; what would be in parks?"

Build a class room terrarium with small treelike plants to demonstrate how trees return moisture to their environment. Add water, seal the terrarium, then have the classroom observe how the moisture is recycled.


Helpful Reading:


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