Tapping a Maple Tree

“Today we’re venturing out to learn how sweet a tree can be as we tap into a Maple tree.”


With bare trees and the dreary months of winter set in, what’s out there for children to learn about and explore?  Actually each bare tree has its own stark beauty when its branching pattern and individual twigs/ branches become visible. Careful examinations of its winter branches reveal many special characteristics about each kind of tree. The wide variety of shapes, colors, textures, and patterns are exciting to see and to learn about.


Each month Blandford Nature Center becomes the classroom for the nature-based preschool students at West Side Christian School. This month we went out on a twig hunt. The students were given a branch from the various trees found nearby. The children needed to look carefully at each branch to see the special features their branch had and find a match.   They soon discovered that some branches formed “arms” that are opposite each other, while others have an alternate pattern.

What’s it like to live like a tree? We pretended to be trees as we listened to a story and acted it out. As the story came alive out there among the trees, the life cycle of a tree and how the leaves make food were woven in.  The students arms became the branches and their hands became the leaves.


We put our math skills to use as we counted the lobes (fingers) on these leaves.

Using the clues of the trees bark, opposite branching and petite-dark-brown buds, the students investigated the nearby trees in search of a Maple Tree.  The students worked together to search out the clues and using their observation skills they found a Maple tree!

The Maple tree we tapped was close to the wigwam where the students explored life long ago during the late fall. Revisiting this place brought questions to mind. How did people long ago tap into their Maple trees?  How did they know that the Maple sap was sweet and tasty? Did they use a drill too? What did people use before they had buckets? The questions set the stage for more learning to take place. Through reading the book, “A Day at the Sugar Camp“the young readers revisited life in a historic Native American sugar camp using the illustrated story and related activities (cultural questions, cut & fold projects).

We ended the school day in the wigwam. Hearing a fun story circled around the fire pit. At the conclusion of the story, one preschooler was quick to chime in, “Tell us another one!” When they return to their outdoor classroom, there will be more stories,  stories of their own making as they engage in continued seasonal, play-based learning.

Related: Nature-based Preschool – Life Long Ago

These opportunities are available for other children too! Blandford’s beautiful and complex ecosystems are here so children can learn, engage, explore, enjoy and value nature’s endless wonders.  Blandford offers a variety of field trip experiences, community programs, and seasonal camps.

Also, if you’re interested in developing nature-based, place-based learning experiences like this for your preschool students please contact Janet Staal at janet@blandfordnaturecenter.org.

In case you wanted to turn your backyard or you next Blandford Nature Center visit into a learning adventure….


Here are some tips for some early childhood Maple tree learning extension activities:                            

  • Build fine motor skills by taking some clay to make a base to stick the small tree like pieces into it. Children enjoying threading beads on to the branches and they can observe the buds as they add beads.
  • Take part in a citizen science backyard project. Project BudBurst is on a mission – to get you outside taking a moment to observe how plants in your community change with the seasons. When you share your observations with them, they become part of an ecological record. Spending time outside with plants is calming, educational, and just plain fun.
  • Check out Blandford’s Nature-based Preschool Pinterest Page for more ideas.
  • Encourage your child to practice drawing trees – how they look during this season.
  • Encourage your child to come up with questions about the changing spring time trees. Today we heard, “I wonder what happens if an animal eats the buds? What animals eat tree buds?”
  • Come out for Blandford Nature Center’s  Maple Moon Community Program. Learn how the first people discovered that Maple sap could be turned into something so special!
  • Save the date for Blandford Nature Center’s Sugarbush Festival, March 18, 2017.

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