It’s official. After this, I can’t really hide what a nerd I am anymore. I mean, a blog post on dendrochronology? But doesn’t everyone have a childhood memory of passing by a tree stump and being fascinated by the rings and the idea of counting them to figure out its age? It’s a super cool concept, right?
Turns out, there’s a lot more you can learn from tree rings than just age. Which makes it a great nature study opportunity for kids! It’s also ideal for winter since all you really need is a stump. And the handy dandy activity worksheet that I made just for you! 😀
Before you dive into it with your kids, here are some basics.
What is dendrochronology?
The easiest answer is simply the study of tree rings. At its most basic level, this involves dating a tree by counting its growth rings. But it’s also the study of all other data that can be gained from observing the rings. For some further reading, this article about the oldest tree in the world (the location of which is being kept secret) is fascinating!
Why is it important and what can it tell us?
Just from studying tree rings, you can learn weather trends of the past, date archaeological sites, and find clues to what happened in that particular area (forest fires, etc.). It’s also a great way to show our kids that there’s a lot we can learn from nature and our surroundings if you know what to look for!
How to count the tree rings.
Notice on the tree stump that there are thin rings as well as wider spaces in between. Every spring and summer, trees add a new layer of growth. Trees grow much faster in the spring, so the wide spaces represent spring growth.
The summer (and sometimes fall) growing season is much slower, so the thin lines are a result of that growth. The two of these together represent one year of growth, so get an accurate estimate, only count the thin rings.
What to look for and what it means.
If you notice some rings that are considerably wider than the rest, this likely means it was a year with plenty of rain and optimal growing circumstances.
Or, if there are years where the rings are particularly thin, this suggests a dry spell, competition from surrounding trees, bug infestation, or something else that inhibited growth.
Dark, black marks can mean your tree survived a forest fire.
If you notice the rings are wider only on one side of the stump, something may have pushed against the tree and caused it to build extra resistance wood on the opposite side. (Don’t worry…all of this is on the printable worksheet so you don’t have to try and remember everything!)
Time to make an adventure out of it!
Go on a hike or walk around your neighborhood to find a tree stump. You may even have one in your own backyard! We headed out to our favorite nature preserve.
Once you find one, be detectives and try to learn everything you can from the rings! Here are some things to go over:
- How old is this tree?
- What year was it “born” or did it start to grow? (Tell them something significant that happened that year, if you can come up with anything).
- How many years of drought happened while this tree was alive?
- Does it look like the tree experienced any sort of trauma? (Forest fire, bug infestation, etc.)
- Have your kids make up and tell a story about the tree’s life based on what you learned!
While hiking, we looked for several different stumps to compare. Try to find the oldest tree or the stump with the most unusual shape!
I always love to pair related books with activities, so we read The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Birthday because it has a couple of pages where Papa Bear cuts down a tree and the cubs count the rings! It was especially helpful with my three-and-a-half-year-old to have a book to aid the concept and get him more excited about it. Because everything is better if the Berenstain Bears did it.
Congrats! Now you’re a certified expert on all things dendrochronology! Okay, maybe not…but you’ve definitely got enough info for your own little nature study with the kiddos. So what are you waiting for? There are hundreds of thousands of tree stumps out there just dying for you and your kids to analyze them! See what I did there? They’re literally dead…mm k, I’m done now. 😀 😀
Have fun, and make sure to grab this printable before you go!
PS – Know someone that would like this blog? Please forward it to them!