Inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards

Canopy’s K-12 education programs provide hands-on, outdoor activities that spark kids’ curiosity about trees and nature. 

PINE Lesson_Geoff PaulsenAs part of our Healthy Trees, Healthy Kids! initiative, a multi-year project that creates greener school campuses, Canopy brings nature education into underserved communities in southern San Mateo county.

Each interactive lesson helps students explore, understand, and appreciate the forest in their backyard. Urban trees take on a whole new status – one that impacts their daily lives.

Our unique curriculum was developed by education professionals specializing in experiential learning. The material for each grade level aligns with learning goals from the California State Standards, Common Core principles, and Next Generation Science Standards. Lessons are delivered by trained Canopy staff and volunteers who are passionate about inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards and leaders. If you would like to join our team of volunteer educators, check out our fall Education Leader Training.

Canopy’s hands-on education units

Under the Tree Book Reading (Kindergarten – 2nd grade)

In this outdoor 60-minute lesson, students sit under a mature tree on their school campus and listen to the instructor read a book about trees that covers basic tree anatomy and tree benefits. Throughout the reading, students are encouraged to participate by asking questions and discussing what they already know and love about trees. After the book reading, students participate in a science activity in which they observe a tree, compare and contrast different trees at the school, and add their findings to a graph. Books that are read include: Have You Seen Trees? by Joanne Oppenheim or This Tree Counts by Alison Formento.

Sense-sational Tree Walk (Kindergarten – 3rd grade)

This 60-minute tree walk lesson engages the senses of touch, smell, sight, and sound as students learn about trees in their neighborhood or school campus and the benefits they provide. Activities include scouting for trees that have strong sensory attributes such as bark that is rough or smooth to the touch, or trees that have a strong scent like citrus or camphor. Students carefully observe trees to find differences in the tree species or in individual trees of the same species. Students practice silence around trees to attune themselves to what’s happening around them in the nature world and listen for animal life. As part of the tree walk, students can gather tree parts from the ground, such as fallen leaves, interesting bark, twigs, acorns, samaras, and other seeds.

Planting Trees is Fun (3rd – 5th grade)

In this 75-minute lesson, students learn to identify, describe, and name functions of the main tree parts, and better understand the importance of trees in the urban ecosystem. Students rotate through the roots station, trunk station, and canopy station and handle real tree samples. At the roots station, students learn how roots suck up water and provide stability for the tree. At the trunk station, students examine tree trunk cross-sections to learn about the functions of a tree’s layers, focusing on the cambium, phloem, xylem, and the bark. At the canopy station, students look at different leaf and seed samples and discuss how trees provide habitat for animals and wildlife in turn disperses tree seeds. Students also learn that photosynthesis is happening in the tree leaves and that this process is vital for trees and humans alike. The lesson culminates with students working together to plant one or two trees on their school campus. For many children, this is their first tree-planting experience!

Tree Identification (5th – 8th grade)

In this 60-minute lesson, students learn to identify tree species by the characteristics of their components (leaves, barks, seeds, fruits, and flowers). Students discuss why it is important to identify trees correctly and what characteristics they observe when identifying a tree. In the classroom, students handle real tree samples and learn botany vocabulary relating to leaf arrangement, leaf type, leaf margins, bark types, tree seeds, and anatomy of flowers. They learn how to use a dichotomous key and then explore the trees on their campus, using their identification skills and dichotomous key to discover the tree species at their school.

Trees in Our Urban Environment (9th – 12th grade)

In this 80-minute lesson, high school biology students focus on the interdependent relationship between humans and trees and our impact on the urban forest. They discuss how changes in the environment, such as climate change, deforestation, and urbanization, affect individual tree species and the forest as a whole. In addition, they will learn about the role humans play in tree selection, the need for biodiversity in the urban forest, and the challenges to keeping trees healthy in the urban environment. In an outdoor exploration, students venture onto their campus to take observational notes regarding tree health and develop possible solutions to increasing the health of our urban forest.

Schedule a presentation

To request a Canopy educational program for your school, contact Canopy’s Program Coordinator, Natalia Schoorl at natalia@canopy.org.

Join the Volunteer Educator Team

Do you want to become an education volunteer and inspire the next generation of environmental stewards? Canopy will train volunteers who are interested in presenting our programs. Learn more and fill out the application or contact Natalia Schoorl with questions at natalia@canopy.org

“After doing Canopy’s tree survey, I feel a sense of accomplishment. I took for granted that street trees grow by themselves without any protection, but I learned that young tree protection is important work.”

~ Student, Asia-US
Service Learning Program