One way to learn about tree growth is to look at annual rings. Tree rings show patterns of change in a tree’s life as well as changes in the area where it grows.
In this activity, you can trace environmental and historical changes using a cross section of a tree, or “tree cookie.”
Doing the Activity
Have you ever counted tree rings?
Every growth season, a tree adds a new layer of wood to its trunk and limbs. This means you can determine the age of a tree by counting its layers, or rings.
Have children learn more about a tree’s life by examining a tree cookie and asking:
- How old was this part of the tree when the tree cookie was cut?
- Can you see different markings? Evidence of scars or narrow, misshapen rings?
- What might have happened to the tree to cause these different markings?
Use a hand lens to get a closer look at the tree cookie’s texture.
Can you see any holes or channels that might allow water and nutrients to travel up the tree?
Finally, ask children to draw a tree cookie the same age as themselves.
What can they do to show when important events in their lives took place?
- Outside and Inside Trees by Sandra Markel, ISBN: 0027623130
A children’s book that describes the various parts of trees and their functions.
Get the Full Activity
This family activity is adapted from Project Learning Tree’s Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide and our PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide which can be obtained from PLT’s Shop or in conjunction with an in-person professional development workshop or online course.
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