Arbor Day!

Arbor Day

Arbor Day, first celebrated in Nebraska 1872, saw the planting of an estimated 1 million trees! Since then, the Arbor Day Foundation has distributed over 350 million trees! Staff at the State Arboretum of Virginia (also known as Blandy Experimental Farm) help us celebrate by providing several fun activities and an extra special social media takeover – on location from the Arboretum! These activities will help your child develop fine and gross motor skills, problem-solving and engineering skills, and can help them engage in cooperative play, while fostering creativity and perseverance. Each theme also comes with recommended literature and movie connections. Feel free to throw in your own activities that might relate, and don’t forget to post your results to social media and tag @discoverymuse to share with everyone else! 

Art Activity/Fine Motor Activity – Artwork Made of Leaves

For this activity, you’ll need to collect leaves from trees in your yard/neighborhood/from your walks. Once you have your leaves collected, you can use them in two different ways! 

  • Join Carrie Whitacre, the Assistant Curator: Herbaceous Gardens, at the State Arboretum of Virginia, as she takes a stroll down Dogwood Lane at the Arboretum.

Directions for Leaf Rubbing

  • Place a leaf (or more) below a piece of paper. Using an unwrapped crayon, rub the long end against the paper where the leaf is to transfer the image to the paper.
  • Another way to transfer the image to the paper is to use a rolling pin. Place the leaf under the paper, use the rolling pin to roll over the paper. The chlorophyll from the plant will be transferred to the paper, leaving a green mark where the leaf was.

Directions for Leaf Brushes

  • You can use the leaves as brushes (see which leaves work best!) by dipping them into the paint and using them to drag the paint around the page. You can use a clip, a clothespin, chopsticks, or even a fork to hold the leaf. You can also dip them into the paint like a stamp and press them onto the page to leave a leaf-shaped image. 
Science Experiment – Leaf in a Bag
  • For this experiment, you will need to collect one leaf from a tree. This leaf should be fully formed but not dying. Look for leaves with a strong green color. Once you have this leaf, place it in a plastic bag and fill the bag almost to the brim with water. The leaf should be fully submerged. Leave the bag on the windowsill (on a plate, in a bowl or taped to the window is fine, just as long as nothing is touching it). Go play, eat lunch, video chat with grandma, and take a nap. Do some jumping jacks, sing along to a song, whisper silly things to the cat, and blow bubbles. While you are doing all of these things, you are breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide. While you are doing all these things, your leaf will be taking in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen! Observe your leaf in a bag without touching it. You might notice there are air bubbles on the leaf! How did that happen? Your leaf has transformed sunshine and chemicals into oxygen through a process called photosynthesis. Those bubbles are proof that your leaf is alive!
  • You can also go on a nature walk in your neighborhood and see how many trees you can count. Check out if you can label them as coniferous (have needles or scales that do not fall off) or deciduous (loses its leaves in the winter). See if you can identify the trees that use seeds or cones to reproduce.
Physical Activity – Nature Walk and Tree Climbing

Get some of those wiggles out while learning a little about tree identification. While you’re identifying trees on your walk, see if you can identify the best tree for a climb! And then, see if you can climb it! Which tree is best for a climb and why?

Conversation Starters and Research Questions
  • What trees are your favorites?
  • Does anyone in your family remember climbing trees or has had a treehouse in the past?
  • Watch clips of Swiss Family Robinson – and imagine your family living in a tree fort. What would be the thing you would like the most about that? What do you think would be your least favorite thing? 
  • Think about special trees in other movies – the trees from the Wizard of Oz, the Whomping Willow in Harry Potter, Grandmother Willow in Pocahontas, the Ents in the Lort of the Rings movies, or the treehouse in which the Lost Boys lived in the movie Hook. How were those trees unique?
Videos and Websites
  • Official Arbor Day – site for kids, with games, downloadable activity pages and resources galore!
  • Follow the Arbor Day Farm on social media for fun Arbor Day activities released all week!
  • ‘Leave’ it to Arbor Day president Dan Lambe to shares some of his favorite “Tree Jokes
  • Lil Ledford an Environmental Educator at Blandy shares a video of a bee (check out those pollen pants!) pollinating a redbud tree with a song! Do you have a redbud tree in your neighborhood?
Movie/Literature Connection:

Because we know you’re at home with limited access to movies and books, we tried to compile a list that connects to today’s theme that you might already have in your collection or be able to access online. These include:


Swiss Family Robinson A family gets shipwrecked on an island and builds an enormous treehouse to live in!


Miss Jen reads aloud The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein


Tree of Hearts by Bryan White