Arbor Day Activities & Games

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

While most of us just associate Arbor Day with trees, there are so many other ways to engage students in the day. From math to creative writing, Arbor Day offers lots of ideas to engage students in meaningful activities.

Origins of Arbor Day

If you take a trip through history, the tree has played a significant role in many cultures, particularly as a symbol of life. Arbor Day goes back to the late 1800s. A Nebraska journalist, Julius Sterling Morton, spread his passion for trees and nature through his articles. The pioneers of the treeless plain of Nebraska needed trees for windbreaks and building materials. So in the late 1800s, the first Arbor Day was held.

Today there are many activities for students to engage in from math to English and to teaching the significance of Arbor Day and of trees. National Arbor Day is the last Friday in April.

A Campus Tree Study

A great activity to engage your students in for Arbor Day involves its centerpiece, the tree. In most schoolyards, we have at least one tree, and it performs an important role. Your students may not appreciate this until they delve into becoming experts on their particular tree.


  • resources about trees
  • art materials for making posters/brochures


  1. Select a tree on your school campus for study.
  2. Take your students out to observe the tree. The larger and more mature the tree the better. Have students record detailed observations about the tree from the types of leaves, bark, any flowers, etc.
  3. Next have students begin to look for signs of life in the tree, such as insects, squirrels, or birds.
  4. Return to class, divide the class into small groups of students. Have them compare their observations.
  5. On another day, have students research and identify their tree and any other organisms the may have identified. Once students are done with their research, summarize what students have learned about the tree.
  6. Explain that trees play a significant role in your school's ecosystem. They absorb water to reduce runoff, reduce ambient heat and pollution. Discuss how your tree is fulfilling this role on campus. Where might your school be producing heat, pollution, or generate significant amounts of runoff? You might provide students with additional resources as part of the discussion.
  7. Have students make posters or brochures to communicate information about your campus tree, and its role in the ecosystem.


Living in a Tree

A fun Arbor Day activity is to do some creative writing about living among the trees. For many students, especially if your school is in an urban setting, the idea of living in nature might be foreign to them. However, by giving them some experiences and a chance to stretch their creative muscle, they will have a new appreciation for trees.


  • writing notebook
  • photographs of different wooded areas for inspiration
  • CD with nature sounds


  1. If possible, take your students outside and visit the tree(s) on your campus. Ask students to imagine what it would be like to live among the trees. What would be the benefits, or challenges of living in the woods? Have them record their ideas in their writing journal.
  2. Have students read grade-appropriate excerpts by different naturalists or other writers who spent some time living in nature, such as Henry D. Thoreau or Carl Hiaasen.
  3. Play a CD with nature sounds (woods, trees, streams, the wind, etc.). Have students sit with their eyes closed for a few minutes and just listen. What would it be like to live in a place that sounds like this?
  4. Continue to let the CD play, have students sit and brainstorm ideas for their story of living in the woods.
  5. Work students through the writing process: create storyboards, write drafts, etc.
  6. Have students create illustrations for their final stories.
  7. On Arbor Day, share the stories with the class.

Who Has the Oldest Tree?

Students may not realize this, but trees are fairly old organisms on the planet. The odds are many trees have been here before they were born, and will continue to grow for many years after they are gone. A fun activity is to determine the age of trees on your campus.


  • tape measures (flexible)
  • a chart that shows the age of urban trees based on diameter (available online)
  • data table
  • graph paper

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