White pines are an evergreen tree with thin leaves, called needles that attach to branches in bundles of five. White pines allow children to explore nature using their senses and create a variety of simple craft projects. You want to visit an area with a mix of young white pines that have the soft needles within reach of preschoolers as well as mature trees that allow children to feel the rough bark.
Sensory Exploration in Nature
Stop at a white pine tree and pull free a bundle of needles. Show the children how a bundle contains five needles. Before the class, you may want to write the word “white” in outlined letters. Have the children count the letters and then count the needles in one bundle. Together, have the children say the letters in the word white. When referring to the tree, make certain that you use the term “white pine tree.”
Sight – Have the children lay down beneath pine trees. If they will be uncomfortable, you may want to place a blanket, tarp, or tablecloth on the ground. You may be able to sprinkle a few pine needles over the children’s faces so they can look up through the forest floor. Have them notice how the tree grows tall and straight, dropping lower branches with leaves that don’t get enough sunlight.
Smell and Taste – Gather white pine needles, removing the branches. Set the needles in a large, clean jar. Pour boiling water over the needles. Allow to seep until the water is cool. Pour this pine needle infusion into 3-oz cups for the children to sample. White pine “tea” is high in vitamin C.
Touch – Blindfold children and stand them near trees (one child for each tree, if possible). Give the children one or two minutes to explore the tree with their sense of touch. Bring the children to a central location and then remove the blindfolds. Can the children recognize their trees based on touch?
Nature Craft Projects
Bird feeders – Gather pine cones. Tie a yarn loop around the top of the cones. Loop the yarn over the child’s wrist. With craft sticks, the children spread solid vegetable shortening over the cone. Roll the cone in sunflower bird seed. Hang on a tree or shrub.
Collage – The children pull apart a pine cone. The children dip individual scales into glue and then set them on a sheet of cardboard in any pattern they desire.
Pine Needle Paint Brushes – Trim short branches that contain a tuft of pine needles. The children dip these in poster paint and create pictures.
Pine Needle Sun Catcher – Set a sheet of clear contact paper on the table. The children sprinkles individual needles onto the sticky paper. Fold the contact paper in half. The adult can cut the contact paper into the shape of a pine tree (use a cookie cutter as a template). Punch a hole at the top and add a string to hang.
Preschool and kindergarten children can learn about white pine trees while exploring nature with their senses. If you do not have white pine trees in your area, try adapting these activities using another tree.