Making It Easy To Learn About Forests

As springtime approaches, the outdoors beckons as a place to learn, enjoy, and engage safely with others. International Day of Forests (March 21) is not coincidentally the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. This year’s theme is “Forests and sustainable production and consumption.”

Whether to mark that Day or any other day of the year, PLT’s new Learn About Forests provides what you need. Learn About Forests consists of 12 free, hands-on activities to use with kids ages 10 to 16. Whether using one, several, or all of the activities, non-educators have an easy-to-follow path to confidently teach about themes related to sustainable forest management, stewardship, and green careers. These are topics that many of today’s young people want to know more about.


How to Start?

It’s hard for people not used to teaching kids to know how to translate good intentions into effective, age-appropriate lessons. That’s where Learn About Forests comes in. Weyerhaeuser Company partnered with PLT and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative to develop Learn About Forests in part to better equip its own natural resource professionals with a way to connect with students.

“One of the first questions our employees have when they reach out to schools is how to start,” said Laura Six, Ph.D., a plant ecology scientist with Weyerhaeuser and member of the PLT Education Operating Committee. “They are not sure which concepts to focus on or how to structure a lesson for a group.”

Each Learn About Forests activity is designed to take 50 minutes to complete and consists of five steps:

  1. Plan
  2. Background
  3. Prepare
  4. Lead
  5. Close

Simple procedures remove the mystery about how to engage learners with the topic.

A ‘Did You Know? Forest Fact’ and ‘Take Action’ suggestion are included as opportunities to extend the learning.


Tips and Tools for Working with Youth

If you’re new to working with youth, gain confidence from our supporting toolkit of tips and tricks, learn about collaborating with schools, and getting local support. Whether you draw from Learn About Forests or from other PLT resources, remember these basic, but essential tips and you’ll be a success:  

children inspect a log in a forest

  • Know your audience. The way you present these activities will change depending on the knowledge, skills, and prior experiences of your learners and even yourself! Play to everyone’s strengths as much as possible.
  • Adapt activities to your specific situation and comfort level. Don’t feel like you have to follow activity instructions to the letter.
  • Tell a captivating story. You might start each activity sharing a personal anecdote from your own experience.
  • Be brief. Limit your instructions to two or three steps.
  • Set boundaries. For outdoor activities, create and communicate clear physical boundaries that provide a safe environment.
  • If you have questions, ask! It’s okay to let youth know you don’t have all the answers, and it’s okay to ask for help—or search the internet for answers.
  • Model thinking skills. When the group discovers something unfamiliar, you might say, “I don’t know–let’s explore that together” or “What do you think is the best solution?
  • Silence is okay. Give youth adequate time to process information and respond.
  • Focus on the experience. Try not to get bogged down in the details by encouraging youth to make their own observations, ask questions, and draw conclusions.


Rundown of Learn About Forests

Review the set or focus on a specific activity to tackle first:

  1. Every Tree for Itself: Explore how trees compete with each other for nutrients, sunlight, space and water
  2. Living with Fire: Explore the burnability of different fuels and the role of fire in ecosystems
  3. Make Your Own Paper: Experience magic in making an everyday product from a tree
  4. three learn about forests activities laid out in a fanNature’s Skyscrapers: Calculate the height of a tree and width of its trunk with simple tools
  5. Plant a Tree: Select the right type of tree for the site, plant it, and consider the many benefits of doing so
  6. Seeking Sustainability: Go global by identifying connections between forests and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals
  7. Tree Cookies: Discover what a tree cross-section reveals about the past
  8. Trees in Trouble: Assess how healthy (or not) is a nearby tree
  9. Water Wonders: Model the paths of water molecules and their importance for all living things
  10. Web of Life: Create an ecosystem to learn about the interconnectedness of organisms
  11. What’s in a Label: Understand what certification is and why it matters
  12. Who Works in This Forest: Learn about forest-related careers, maybe even one for your students’ future.


view activities button




If you’re inspired to help grow the next generation of environmental stewards and future conservation leaders, be sure to try these activities that make it easy to teach youth about forests!

From Seeds to Trees—All in Your Pocket

cover-of-project-learning-tree-pocket-guide-seeds-to-treesTrees start small but pack a big wallop—and so does PLT’s new offering, Pocket Guide: Seeds to Trees. Through hands-on experiences, Seeds to Trees introduces nature to kids ages 3–6 by encouraging exploration and discovery through the lens of trees and forests.

At just 4 by 6 inches, the Guide is small enough, as the name suggests, to fit into a pocket or backpack. It’s a great stocking stuffer for educators, group leaders, parents, and grandparents to use with the children in their lives.

We recognized the need for an easy-to-tote resource when it’s hard to bring a larger book or computer outside. Thanks to funding from International Paper, we repurposed and redesigned some of our most popular early childhood PLT activities into Seeds to Trees.




What’s Inside the Pocket Guide

Based on solid PLT learning concepts, the Guide is set up so you can do all the activities or just one or a few, in convenient settings and with the materials you have at hand. We ensure that kids find the activities fun to do, while you can feel confident that are you are providing factual,
age-appropriate information.

Seeds to Trees also provides tested techniques to engage children in all kinds of hands-on learning opportunities, especially outside. So if you need to learn the basics or reinforce best practices, you’ll find a concise summary of tips. The laminated cover is rainproof and durable for regular use in the outdoors.

The Guide is laid out as follows: through a Dramatic Play and Read-Aloud, children start by imagining themselves growing from a seed to a tree in a way that engages all their senses. Four additional activities, each about 20 minutes, follow that work well with pre-K and kindergarten attention spans.



Shape Hike

This is like a game of “I Spy” with a mission. Children explore how natural objects, such as leaves, rocks, or acorns, have different shapes.

Nature Sounds

By listening carefully, a whole new world of sounds is revealed.

Tree Parts

Through their sense of touch, children explore different parts of a tree.

Trees in Our Lives

Children consider the many products from trees around them, from the places they live to toys to apples.





With the holidays in mind, the Pocket Guide is available now from PLT Shop for $12.99. Beginning in early 2021, it will also be available for purchase from Amazon and wherever books are sold.

PLT Seeks Educators for Focus Groups

Will you be attending this year’s National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) National Conference in St. Louis, Missouri in April? Would you like to help us make Project Learning Tree more effective?

Project Learning Tree is currently revising and updating its flagship curriculum, the PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide. As part of this project, we want to hear from school teachers about how you use PLT and how we might better meet your needs.

During NSTA’s National Conference in April, we will host a series of Focus Groups to speak with educators about how you currently use PLT and what could make PLT even better.

For these Focus Groups, we are looking for school-based, K-8 classroom teachers who currently use PLT curriculum materials with their students. Participants must be physically in the St. Louis area and available to meet in person on April 11 or April 12 for a 90-minute session.

All participants will receive $50 Amazon gift cards to express our appreciation for your feedback, in addition to on-site refreshments, including lunch options, tasty treats, and pick-me-up beverages. Unfortunately, we are unable to pay for substitutes or proxies.

Karen Ostlund
Dr. Karen L. Ostlund, NSTA Past President (2012-2013)

If you are interested in joining us, please review our personal invitation from NSTA Past President (2012-2013), Karen Ostlund, and complete the accompanying 8-question survey.

We will notify confirmed applicants no later than Friday, April 5 with final Focus Group details.

Thank you!

Contact Rachel Lang at [email protected] for more information.

PLT Seeks Educators to Pilot Test New Activities

PLT-PreK-8_Environmental-Education-Activity-GuideProject Learning Tree is currently revising and updating its flagship curriculum, the PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide. As part of this project, we will have educators pilot test five new activities to be included in the guide.

Thank you for your interest in piloting activities for Project Learning Tree. At this time, we have received over 500 responses. Applications are now closed. Please check Project Learning Tree’s social media for additional events or opportunities.

5 New PLT Activities

The five new activities to be pilot-tested explore the following:

  • The emotional and physical benefits of being out-of-doors
  • How trees and the urban forest affect the livability of our communities
  • Equity and environmental justice in our communities
  • The value of forest product certification for people and forests
  • The environmental effects of using wood versus other materials

On-the-ground pilot testing is essential for developing high-quality curriculum. The goals of this pilot test are to assess grade level appropriateness and usability with students, as well as to gather feedback and suggestions for enrichments, differentiated instruction, and more.

Teacher Review

PLT-activity-Viewpoints-on-the-LineFor this pilot test, educators will be working with youth in Grades 3-5 or 6-8. Both non-formal educators (nature centers, afterschool programs, Boy Scouts, etc.) and formal (classroom) teachers will be participating.

Educators will be asked to pilot test either one or two activities with students. Educators must also complete an online evaluation tool, which will ask about their experience using the activity and any recommendations for improvement.

Stipends are available for educators who are selected to participate and who use their assigned activities with students and complete the required evaluations.

National PLT will confirm pilot participants by March 22. Please be advised that educators working with Grades 3-5 and 6-8 will be given priority, and that stipends will be sent following the successful completion of the required evaluations.

Thank you! 

Contact Rachel Lang at [email protected] for more information.