Children and Nature Get Involved! Personal Sustainability: How-To

Maple Syruping with Kids

tapped-treeIf you live in an area with Sugar Maple trees and are a parent, teacher, or neighbor of kids, I strongly encourage you to consider “Sugaring” with them.  Maple sap runs during the school year, making a Maple Project the perfect seasonal activity to bring into the classroom.  The learning opportunities are endless.  In the process of sugaring, we encounter:

  • all three states of water (solid ice, liquid water, and water vapor)
  • diameter and circumference measurements
  • seasonal changes in trees and discussion of tree health
  • ratios
  • parts of a tree and functions of the layers of a tree trunk
  • local history and lore
  • many opportunities to use all five senses
  • tools of all kinds: drills, taps, hammers, buckets, measuring tapes, evaporators, thermometers, and more

I’ve included activities most suited to active groups containing a wide age-range of elementary students.  Shelburne Farms’ Project Seasons and your state’s Maple Syrup Producers Association have additional resources if you’re looking for more ideas for your group of students.  I like to start with students in a circle around objects representing key vocabulary like tap, bucket, trunk, roots, measuring tape, and thermometer.  Once we all understand these concepts, we get outside and get moving!

sapSappy Sappy Flow Up My Tree (adaptation of Fishy Fishy Cross my Sea): Learn the function of sap for the tree and consider the impact of tapping on tree health

– Leading Questions: How does food stored in the roots and trunk get back to the buds of the tree so new leaves can grow?  How does a tree know when spring is coming?  At what temperature can frozen water turn to liquids?

  • Have students line up at one end of a gym or basket ball court/open running area
  • One adult stands in the middle, and is the “tap and bucket” – the hole in the tree that we drilled to collect sap. Explain that as sap droplets (students) flow up the tree, from the roots (one end of the court) to the branches (the other end) they bringing food to the buds.  Some sap, however, is “caught” by the tapped hole, and flows out into the bucket
  • The “it” adult, yells “sappy sappy flow up my tree!”
  • Tagged students must stay in the middle of the court, and become “holes” for the next round. All folks that are “it” chant “sappy sappy flow up my tree”, and the remaining group of sap droplets run across the space, trying to avoid the holes

-Group Questions: What happens when there is only one hole? What happens when there are a lot of holes? Does very much sap get to the buds so that they can grow into leaves?  Are there a lot of wounds, making trees more likely to get a disease?  As we will learn next, bark provides protection for the tree.  What number of holes is best for the tree?

HeartwoodSapwoodHeartwood, Sapwood (adaptation of Red Light, Green Light): Learn the parts of a tree trunk and their functions

  • Explain the parts of a trunk using a diagram or tree cookie
  • Give all students a name tag sticker (or masking tape) naming one part of the trunk to stick to their coat.  Review each part’s function, and have each student group think of a motion to depict their new identity (show right arm muscle, then left for strong heartwood, cross and re-cross hands in front of chest for protective bark)
  • Review what temperatures are above and below freezing.  Review that sap runs when it goes above freezing during the day, and freezes solid at night when temperatures goes below freezing
  • Start on one end of your running space
  • Teacher goes to other end.  Explain that instead of playing “red light, green light,” you’ll “Flow” and “freeze” according to the temperatures shouted by the teacher.  If she shouts a number below freezing, students may not move.  If she shouts a number above freezing, students may advance, making their motion, toward the teacher and opposite end of the court

MeasuringMeasuring “Trees” Activity (adapted from Project Seasons’ “Measuring Monsters and Midgets”)

  • Ask: How do we get sap from a tree? (we drill into sapwood (a.k.a. xylem – about 2 inches in), sap “leaks” out hole as it rises from roots to branches)
  • Think about our first running game.  Can we tap any size of tree?  Trees have to be certain size “wide” (not tall): their circumference is measured. Show Circumference Chart.  Have students use measuring tapes to measure their teacher, you, each other, and a bunch of students together. How many taps could we safely have if we were maple trees?

tap-and-hammerTasting Sap and Syrup

  • Yes, these running games make maple education fun.  Tasting maple syrup, however, can’t be beat.   Ask: What is the difference between sap and syrup? 40 gallons of sap must be evaporated to get one gallon of sap! In other words, 39 gallons of water must be turned into steam and go into the air!  What remains is maple syrup.
  • So sap is A LOT of water and some sugar, vitamins, and minerals the tree needs for food to make leaves.  Maple syrup is concentrated sugar, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Taste samples!
  • Extension: have the group generate a list of description words (adjectives) that they might use to describe sap and/or syrup.  Each student can then use words off of the list to write a poem.

4 replies on “Maple Syruping with Kids”

[…] Making sumac spiles was easy, but it went below freezing and I have yet to see if they work well.  With forecasted temperatures above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, sap will flow and I’ll find out soon!  For more detailed instructions for how to tap a tree at home or school, check out this blog post.  For games and activities to liven up and inform the process for elementary school students, check ou… […]

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