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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!

An image showing the full collection of Nature Study courses

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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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Outdoor Hour Challenge: Quick and Simple Evergreens

Winter Evergreen Mosaic

  • Take a short walk through your neighborhood and notice the evergreen trees and bushes that you have near your home. Use the December Newsletter suggestions from the Study Grid and the Printable Bookmark if you would like to some more direction to your nature study.
  • Allow time for a nature journal entry or use the notebook page from the December Newsletter to record anything you discovered or found interesting. You can also start a Year-Long Tree Study if you haven’t already. You can find a simple Seasonal Tree Study notebook page on my free downloads page.

Note: The December Newsletter is still available to subscribers of this blog. Please enter your email address in the box on my blog sidebar and you will receive the link in the footer of the next entry.

More Nature Study #2 button

More ideas on my Winter Wednesday Squidoo lens.

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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!

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2011 Winter Series Outdoor Hour Challenge #5 Pine Trees and Winter Wednesday #5 Evergreens

Pines and Aspens Winter
Evergreens and Aspens

Another week where the challenges match up for you!

Winter Series #5 Pine Trees in Winter
Winter Wednesday #5 Evergreens/Cones

Please feel free to complete one or both of the challenges as you have the opportunity. We would all enjoy seeing your entries and even if it is at a later date, please come back to this entry and add your link.

Pines On The Lake's Edge with Snow
Evergreens on the Lake’s Edge

Don’t forget to check the Winter Wednesday Squidoo page for more information for #4 and #5 challenges to go along with this week’s study.

weather lapbook
I forgot to mention last week with the winter weather challenge that my daughter has a Weather Lapbook Kit that you can purchase if you want to spend some extra time learning about your weather. Check it out on her blog Hearts and Trees.

Winter Winter Wednesday Button

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Our Pine Tree Study: Winter Series #5

“There is something majestic about the pines, which even the most unimpressionable feel.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 670

We have plenty of pine trees to study in our area and because they are so common we often don’t take the time to really look at them. This week as part of the Winter Series of Challenges, we tried to focus on two different kinds of pines that we have along our walking trail in two different spots.

The first is the Ponderosa pine and it is very common in our neighborhood. We also enjoy seeing them when we visit Yosemite.
looking up high

These are really tall pines that spread out their limbs high up on the top.
Ponderosa Pine needles attached to the branch
Quite a few limbs had fallen down in the last storm we experienced, making observation of the limbs much easier. Here you can see how the bundles of needles are attached to the limb.

Ponderosa Pine bark up close
Ponderosa Pine trunks resemble puzzle pieces and have actually very pretty.

Ponderoas Pine moss on the bark
Here is another tree that has moss growing in between the bark pieces.

Now for the other kind of pine….

Jeffrey pine needles
The needles on this pine are almost blue-gray in comparison to the Ponderosa Pine. This limb was down from the winter storm as well and we got to take a really good look at it up close.

Jeffrey pine growth
This was interesting to see. I am assuming this is where the new cones will develop on the limb.

“The appearance of the unique unripe cone is another convincing evidence that mathematics is the basis of the beautiful. The pattern of the overlapping scales is intricate and yet regular-to appreciate it one needs to try to sketch it.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 672

Jeffrey Pine cone
Here are some cones. We are not sure and will have to go back and look at the tree itself to identify it but the boys are thinking that it is either a Jeffrey pine or a Gray pine.

Pine cone 7 13 09
I attempted last summer to sketch and paint some cones into my nature journal and it is very true that when you take the time to sketch something you notice all the patterns and details much more than you would normally. I encourage you to give it a try with your children.

We have studied the pines in our backyard before and you can read about that study HERE.

“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

I think if you live in the West, the sugar pine is also very interesting, especially if you have a big cone to study.

Great week for nature study!

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Outdoor Hour Challenge-Winter Series #5 Pine Trees


Outdoor Hour Challenge
Winter Series Ebook
Pine Trees in Winter

(See previous Pine Tree Challenge #32)

Inside Preparation Work:
This week read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 670-675 to learn more about pine trees. Even if you don’t think you have any pines in your area, it is still interesting to read the information for future reference. Make sure to note the ideas suggested for studying pines in the lesson at the end of the section.

Outdoor Hour Time:
Spend 15 minutes outdoors this week with your children in your own yard or on your own street. This week you will have two suggested activities.

*If you have a pine tree of any variety in your yard or on your street, use the ideas from the lesson on page 674 and 675 to guide your observation of the pine tree.
Pine cones 1
Some ideas to get you started:
What is the general shape of the pine tree?
Is there one central stem running straight up through the center of the tree to the top?
What color is the bark? Is the bark ridged or in scales?
Study the pine leaves. Why are they called needles? How many needles in the bundle?
Does it have a cone?

*If you do not have a pine to observe or you would like an additional activity, take some time to lay under any kind of tree that is available. Look up at the branches. Listen to the sounds of the leaves. Try to spot some kind of wildlife in the tree. Have your children tell you with their words what they experienced while under the tree.

Pine cones on the tree
Follow-Up Activity:
After your observation time, use a field guide (see suggestions on the bottom of this post) to identify your particular pine tree. Make a rubbing of your tree’s needles. We have found this blog page to be especially helpful in identifying pines:

Make sure to give time and the opportunity for a nature journal entry. If you observed a pine tree, try to complete Exercise Ten of the lesson on pine trees: Draw a bundle of pine needles showing the sheath and its attachment to the twig; the cone; the cone scale; the seed. Sketch a pine tree. You could also include a leaf or needle rubbing in your nature journal this week. There is a notebook page included with the Winter Nature Study ebook or you can complete another Seasonal Tree Study page with your pine tree. As always, you are free to use a blank journal page in your nature journal.

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy

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Evergreens: Not All are Pine Trees

The moon from last week….

So here is my biggest revelation of the week: Not all evergreens that I see in the winter are pines….some are firs. 🙂 Both pines and firs are conifers (cone-bearing) but you can tell them apart by looking at the way the needles grow. Pines have bundles of needles and firs don’t.

That is my very unscientific description and understanding. It is good enough for me right now to recognize that I shouldn’t call all evergreens “pine trees” or even all cone-bearing trees “pine trees”. Sometimes it takes me a long time to catch on to things.

We noticed that there were some branches strewn across our hiking trail this week. Here is the first one.

We think it is White Fir.

Here is the second one that we observed on the trail. There was quite a bit of it in small branches all over one section of the trail.

We think this one is the Douglas Fir.

On another note, we have some fun stuff going on at our nature shelf.

We were surprised this morning to observe that the forsythia branches and the twig from our tree study have all started to show signs of blossoming. We brought them inside last week to “force” them to grow earlier than they would outdoors. If you want to try it, here are some instructions:
Forcing Forsythia (or other woody plants like p. willows)

Here is the first of the forsythia blooms.

Here is an attempt to take a photo of the complete branch showing the blossoms that are bursting out this morning in the morning sunshine.

Here is the sweet gum twig.

Isn’t that the coolest thing ever? How amazing and beautiful this twig is as it starts to bud out with the leaves…I assume these will be the leaves. I will keep you posted.

What a great week it is shaping up to be for nature study! These sorts of impromptu studies are the best. We had the field guides out and the magnifying lens at hand to observe the details. We are now deciding that we want to make a bigger space for all our nature collections. I will share what we come up with in the weeks to come.