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Homeschool Nature Study Pine Trees and Pine Cones

This homeschool nature study has everything you need to start learning about pine trees and pine cones. This Outdoor Hour Challenge is based on the Winter Wednesday curriculum which is available to our members but you can follow along regardless using this post as a bit of a guide. In the Winter Wednesday curriculum you will have access to notebooking pages and a host more ideas and links.

Let’s jump into exploring pine trees and pine cones in nature…

This homeschool nature study has what you need to start learning about pine trees and pine cones. Then head outdoors to gather some cones!

This challenge was originally written using the Discover Nature in Winter book which you can grab fairly inexpensively off Amazon in Kindle format. However, I will give you alternatives using the Handbook of Nature Study (this is a link to the free online version if you do not have a copy to hand just yet) too.

Homeschool Nature Study: Pine Trees and Pine Cones

Let’s kick off our studies with a quick Youtube video on pine cones.

Outdoor Hour Challenge for Your Homeschool

1. Read chapter five in Discover Nature in Winter. Once again, this chapter covers more than just cedar trees in its information and activities. As you read the chapter, keep your pen in hand to jot down ideas that come to you as you read the information and the suggested activities.

If you are using the Handbook of Nature Study begin by reading the introductory pages of the pine tree on pages 670-674. Bear this information in mind as you head out for your nature walk. You do not need to bombard your children with information, instead, you will be able to answer their questions and direct their observations.

2. Since this chapter really covers a variety of evergreens, our family will be focusing on our local evergreens as part of this week’s activity. We will be completing two activities to go along with this chapter, one a short term project and one a long term project.

Cone Collection on page 96 (short term)
Tree Community on page 97 (long term)

The Homeschool Pine Cone Collection Activity

For the cone collection, we will be gathering and comparing cones from different evergreens. I love the idea on the top of page 97 to pick a cone and write a description of it in your nature journal. Then you share the description with someone else and they have to figure out which cone you described. Love it!

The Tree Community Activity for Your Homeschool

For the tree community activity, we will be using our backyard sequoia to develop an ongoing list of creatures that use the tree as part of their community. This activity suggests keeping track of when certain birds and animals frequent the tree to see patterns. See page 98 for a sample chart.

Suggested Activities If You Do Not Have A Copy of Discover Nature in Winter

I know that there are homeschool families that are following along without the book but this week’s nature study is one you can complete very easily. Here are some suggestions.

1. Observe and compare the bark of two trees in your yard.
2. Pick a tree you can see from your window and observe any birds or animals that visit over the next week.
3. Collect cones and compare them in your nature journal. See if you can find the seeds inside the cone.

Pine Trees and Pine Cones From the Handbook of Nature Study

Lesson 185 – The Pine – page674-675

  • Find a pine tree on your walk and look at it’s shape. Observations 1 -3 of the lesson will guide you on what to look for
  • Gather up some pine leaves. Observation 4 provides guidance on your observations
  • Collect as many cones as you can to take home. It would be lovely it you could find some closed and some open. Observations 5-6 in the Handbook of Nature Study will give you ideas on what you are looking for.
This homeschool nature study has what you need to start learning about pine trees and pine cones. Then head outdoors to gather some cones!

If you are just getting started in homeschool nature study, be sure to grab our free Getting Started in the Outdoor Challenges Guide!

Join the Homeschool Nature Study Membership for Year Round Support

There are so many benefits to joining. You will access our full range of curriculum, our interactive learning calendar as well as a brand new homeschool nature study challenge post each week!

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Winter Tree Study – Our Ponderosa Pines!

“Of all pines, this one gives forth the finest music to the winds.” John Muir

Ponderosa Pine Winter Tree Study

Our local forest is populated with predominately two different pines: the lodge pole and the ponderosa. Of the two, the ponderosa is my favorite! When the forest is cleared, either by man or fire, the ponderosa pines are so beautifully placed just like in a park. They give each other enough room to grow and flourish. Their colorful bark is highlighted especially with snow on the ground. We decided it was about time we took a closer look at this special tree.

Ponderosa Pine in the snow

In the winter season, with a proper frosting of snow, the ponderosa pine is like the quintessential pine of your imagination. It grows with a beautifully colored straight trunk with limbs reaching out at just the right intervals. Plus the needles are long and bundled and the cones are just the right size for holding in the palm of your hand.

ponderosa pine cones at tahoe
Image from my archives – Fun day at Tahoe

I remember learning that little trick to identifying the cones….palm size = ponderosa.

So, using our field guide, we set out to learn some new facts about the ponderosa pine. What an incredibly important tree here in Oregon! Not just for lumber but also as a part of the habitat for many birds and animals.

La Pine State Park big tree
Big Ponderosa Pine at La Pine State Park, Oregon

We just happen to have the largest ponderosa pine in Oregon not far from our house and it’s a pleasant stroll out into the forest to see it.

Ponderosa Pines in the snow

I love the habitat of the ponderosa pine and the creatures that live there. Some of my favorite family times hiking have been under these amazing trees not just here in Oregon but in California, Utah, and Nevada.

Ponderosa Pine nature journal


You can read our ponderosa pine cone study here: Ponderosa Pine Cone. You can download the printable notebook page here: Winter Cone Study.

If you would like to complete your own winter tree study this year, you can click the button below for suggestions using the Handbook of Nature Study.

“At least one pine tree should be studied in the field. Any species will do, but the white pine is the most interesting.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 674


Do you have a pine to study this season?





Here are two books I own and love. Please note they are affiliate links.

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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Autumn Pine Cone Study


Outdoor Hour Challenge

Autumn Pine Cone Study

From the Archives and from the Autumn ebook

Continuing our use of comparisons, take your fifteen minutes outdoors this week to either find two different cones to compare or to compare a tree with cones to a tree that does not have cones.

These simple suggestions will get you started with your Outdoor Hour Challenge time and the idea is simple enough for all family members to participate.

Click the link to the archive challenge and see more suggestions for both observations and a nature journal follow up page.  If you have access to the Autumn 2010 ebook, there is a notebook page for you to use after your outdoor time.

This is a challenge I am personally looking forward to completing in my new habitat. There are many cones to investigate!

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudyUse the discount code NATURE5 to receive $5 off an Ultimate Naturalist Membership!

Ultimate Naturalist Library September 2017 @handbookofnaturestudy

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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Pines and Cones

Pine Tree and Cone Nature Study @handbookofnaturestudy

This week we will be revisiting two different Outdoor Hour Challenges from the archives – Pine Tree Nature Study and Pine Cone Nature Study. Both of the challenges suggested for this week can be completed in any season and both contain a free printable of some sort to record your pine and cone study. There are links to the ebooks where each challenge is found so Ultimate Naturalist Members can download the corresponding ebooks with custom notebooking pages if desired.

Outdoor Hour Challenge – Winter Pine Trees (from the Winter ebook)

Outdoor Hour Challenge – Pine Cone Study (from the Autumn ebook)

NOTE: Members here on the Handbook of Nature Study have a new printable in the library: Pine Cone Investigation. Make sure to download and use this notebook page with your older students.

“Their foliage is evergreen but is shed gradually. The pollen-bearing and the seed-producing flowers are separate on the tree. The seeds are winged and are developed in cones.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 674

After reading through each challenge linked above, choose one or two things to keep in mind during your Outdoor Hour Challenge time. Enjoy your fifteen minutes outdoors as you look for pines and cones and make sure to show interest in any item your child finds to observe or bring home to your nature table.

 Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy

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Ponderosa Pine Cone Study

We have been on the lookout for tree cones for the past few weeks (as part of the Winter Tree Cone Study) and picked the Ponderosa Pine as our subject for a tree cone study. There are many Ponderosa Pines in our neighborhood and they are easy to spot because of their size and trunk pattern. Our family has done a thorough tree study of the Ponderosa Pine in the past but this time we focused just on the cone.

Here is a close up of the cone showing it’s scale pattern and the sap too.

Here is a cone that the squirrels have taken apart to find the seeds hidden inside. This is a common sight along our local walking trail. It seems where there are Ponderosa Pines, there are squirrels.

I completed the tree cone observation page for my nature notebook. I included an image and some facts about the Ponderosa Pine cone. You can find the printable notebook page here: Winter Tree Cone Study.

  • Flexible scales
  • Egg shaped cone
  • Tipped with slender 1/8 inch prickles that can curve out
  • Seed is 3/8″ and the wing is 1″
  • Red and gray squirrels eat the seeds. California quail also eat the seeds.
  • Overall cone length is 3-6″

All information is from my Peterson Western Trees field guide.

You can read more about our Ponderosa Pine tree study here: Our Pine Tree Study.
We share more about our cone study here: Pines, Evergreens, Cones, and Needles. 

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Outdoor Hour Challenge – Winter Tree Cone Study

Outdoor Hour Challenge
Tree Cone Study 

This week we are going to look at tree cones. Such a simple nature study that children love! Use the challenges listed below for ideas on getting started with your family’s cone study.

There are a couple challenges you can use for this nature study:
Winter Wednesday – Tree Cones from 2009
Pine Cones – Autumn #9 from 2010

You may also be interested in reading this entry from The Teachable Heart:
Autumn Series #9 – Pine Cones

Printable Notebook Page – My Tree Cone Observations
Here is a simple notebook page to use with your challenge this week. Have some fun observing a tree cone and help your children make a record of their thoughts for their nature journal. I left the box large enough that you can adhere a photo of your cone if you don’t want to sketch.

My Tree Cone – printable notebook page

Getting Started Suggestion:
If you already own the Getting Started ebook, completeOutdoor Hour Challenge #6. Start a cone collection this week and complete the notebook page provided in the ebook if you desire. See this Pinterest board for display ideas: Nature Display. 

Outdoor Hour Challenge Getting Started Ebook @handbookofnaturestudy

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy


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No Snow Study- Winter Walk Instead

Winter Walk Snow Nature Study
Our winter continues to be warmer than normal…even record-breaking temperatures. As much as I love the warm afternoons and sunshine, I am concerned for the drying up reservoirs and the very dry forest conditions. I know I have no power to bring on the rain and snow so I am trying to make the best of it.

This week’s Winter Snow challenge was a big challenge indeed. We did find a bit of snow up the mountain from our house but not a whole lot. We opted to complete the Winter Nature Walk- Scavenger Hunt activity from Hearts and Trees.

I took an image of the page with my phone and we used that during our hike to remember the things we were looking for as we went.

Here are our results:

An evergreen
Buds on a tree
We decided this duck weed was more interesting than moss.
Trees that have lost all their leaves – aspens
a bird – Steller’s Jay
We didn’t find any berries but this rose hip was certainly colorful.
Something with thorns
Pinecones – The squirrels had lunch on the picnic table!

One last image from our hike at Taylor Creek. The beavers have been clear cutting a lot of the trees along the water. They have quite a few trees that are ready to fall as well. The dam is getting huge! Amazing creatures with incredible strength.

We are still waiting for some real snow here and I will keep the snow study in the back of my mind for a future time. I hope some of you were more successful with this challenge or you took advantage of the scavenger hunt instead.


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November Nature Study – Autumn Hiking Delights

The mountains and forest had been calling for us to come and explore the season before the winter sets in any time now. The forecast was for partly cloudy skies and perhaps a few snow flurries so we didn’t plan too long of a hike just in case we needed to move quickly to shelter. The sun actually poked through the clouds a few times and that was a welcome treat.

Beaver Work
Right near where we parked the car and started on the trail we noticed that a beaver had gnawed this tree down…can you believe how strong that beaver must be? We weren’t sure if he was going to come back for the log but we marveled at his ability to bring down a rather large tree.

Aspens in November
We hiked through the mixed conifer and deciduous forest, noting that the aspens were all bare but still very beautiful. We listened to the bird sounds and a squirrel chattering too. We saw and heard Steller’s jays, common ravens, California gulls, mallard ducks, white-headed woodpeckers, Canada geese, and an osprey. It was a great day for birds.

Taylor Creek Eagle Habitat
We stopped along the trail to view the meadow and marsh. This spot is known to be an eagle habitat so I had my eyes open wide hoping to see one this day. And…..I was not disappointed. A bald eagle flew very majestically above the meadow from the pine forest and then out over the lake. I was very excited to see this graceful bird as he flew right overhead and then disappeared. It was a moment.

In the photo above you can see how it was snowing up on the mountain peak and we even at one point had soft flakes of snow coming down on us but it didn’t last long or stick to the ground at all. It was a perfect day for a hike.

Tahoe Eagle Journal
Journal tip: It can be overwhelming when you have so many subjects to write about in your journal. It helps to focus on just one of the highlights like our encounter with the eagle and a list of birds. I don’t like to draw birds so I used a photo and then answered the three main questions: when, where, what.

Pinecone - Andy Goldsworthy Style
When I take my creative daughter with me, we always find a way to do something fun. This time we settled on making an Andy Goldworthy style art piece using natural items. There were loads of pinecones on the ground so we decided to feature those in our sculpture.

While we were busy with our sculpture, my husband added this line of pinecones leading down the stairway to our artwork. It made me smile and feel appreciative of the support of a great guy for his nature-loving wife.

Thistles in November
On the hike back we found a patch of thistles to admire. After studying them this autumn I have a new found appreciation for their features. So pretty even now.

Taylor Creek Beaver Dam
We also saw where the beaver is attempting to build a dam across the creek. The creek is flooding part of the trail right now because of the water backed up behind the dam. We had to circle around to avoid needing to wade through the creek. This is exactly where we saw the mama and two baby bear cubs earlier this fall…no signs of them now.

As always, we were rewarded for our efforts to get outdoors and do some exploring. The informal nature study opportunities were everywhere and I made some mental notes on topics we were curious about as we hiked along. Some afternoon on a cold winter day I will pull out some field guides and we will research a few of the answers to our questions. Nature study truly is a life project.

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Magnificent Redwoods – Closer Look and a Nature Journal Entry

Redwood Tree Study 6

There are three kinds of redwood trees: Coast redwoods, Dawn redwoods, and Giant sequoias. I have two of the three in my neighborhood. We have a sequoia in our backyard and there is a small grove of redwoods planted across the street at the school. We stopped last week to take a closer look at the redwood while we were out on a walk.

The bark of the redwood is spongy and in the photo above you can see how you can peel the bark in strand-like fibers. This tree is such an amazing creation and our family has found delight in learning the details of the life-cycle of this tree.

Redwood Tree Study 2

Here is an excerpt from the Save the Redwoods League website:
“The coast redwood is one of the world’s fastest growing conifers. In contrast to the tree’s size, redwood cones are very small — only about an inch long. Each cone contains 14 to 24 tiny seeds: It would take well over 100,000 seeds to weigh a pound! In good conditions, redwood seedlings grow rapidly, sometimes more than a foot annually. Young trees also sprout from their parent’s roots, taking advantage of the energy and nutrient reserves contained within the established, shallow root system.”

Redwood Tree Study 1

Isn’t this just amazing to see? I grew up with a Coast Redwood in my backyard but I don’t ever remember noticing this part of the growth cycle before. I love the way a more regular nature study has opened our eyes to the wonderful things right in our own neighborhood. Trees seem to become just part of the landscape unless we slow down for a closer look. I feel like a poet sometimes when we are looking at trees….words just seem to spill out.  You cannot stand under one of these mammoth trees and not have a whole string of adjectives come to mind.

Redwood Tree Study 7

We are going to do some more research on the way the redwood will regenerate and I am sure this study will continue when we take our camping trip to coast of Northern California later this summer, a trip we have taken before but we are all eager to do again. A whole forest of redwoods is an experience to treasure.

Humbolt Redwoods 2010
Here I am last summer (2010) at Humbolt Redwoods in Northern California.
Does that give you an idea of how tall these trees are in real life?

Nature Journal - Redwoods 1

I am trying to be more disciplined about adding to my nature journal regularly. It isn’t so much that I don’t want to take the time but rather that I always spend way more time than expected doing research, reading field guides, and then getting lost in joy of the actual journaling time. Even the simple task of sketching a small twig from the redwood into my nature journal brought into focus some special attributes that a casual glance could not reveal. I have been enjoying adding some photos to my entries and find that the combination of sketching, writing, and adding a photo brings me a great sense of satisfaction.

We have had a really busy week so the small square activity and our mammal study have been postponed. Guess who we will be learning about for our winter mammal study? Mr. Fox Squirrel!

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Pines, Evergreens, Cones, and Needles

Tree Field Guides

This week has been full of nature study….the informal kind that happens as we go about our everyday life. My boys are a big part of the experience and they discover things in our world that I miss. Their eyes seem to be open to so much around them, while my head is full of schedules and tasks that need to be done. I really must make a conscious effort to clear my head more when we are outdoors.

Northern Flicker

First of all, before I get into the pines and cones, I have to share a rare visitor to our backyard. This Northern flicker was up on the tree and Mr. A spotted it and brought it to my attention. Not the first time we have ever had a flicker in the yard but it has been a long time since we observed this interesting bird. They eat bugs and insects from the grass below the tree but they are considered woodpeckers. They also have a red flash on their wings when they fly.

Our focus on cones and needles this week was highlighted by two events.

Douglas Fir with Cone
The first happened last week when we had a huge windstorm with lots of gusts. The wind brought down small branches and cones on the trail where we walk and we were able to get a good look at both. These are not from a pine but a fir tree, Douglas fir. I love what it says in our field guide about the Douglas fir cone. It says, “mouse tail bracts grow between scales”. Sure enough…there they are.

The second event was a walk on our walking trail where we were trying to notice something interesting about pines. Here is a spot on the trail where there are two different pines growing side by side.

Two Pines
Notice the two different colors of needles.

They both have bundles of three and are about the same length. We are pretty sure after much study of our field guides and online sources that one is a Gray pine and the other is a Ponderosa pine. We are going to take our field guide back with us later today and see if we can nail the identification down positively.

What a great week we have had looking for cones and pines! I know that many of you are experiencing cold snowy weather but here in our woods we are enjoying abundant sunshine and no precipitation.

First Daffodil 2011

Guess what I spotted yesterday in my garden? The first daffodil of the year is starting to bloom! Crazy, crazy weather for us too!