Dear Dr. Linda,

There is no better time for kids to learn about our dependence on the plant world than from summer vacation through the fall harvest. Do me a favor. Write a column about plant life that parents can share with their children over this summer break. Tell parents to walk outside with their kids and right there in their own backyards is an entire lesson on plant life.


Sign Up for E-News

Biology Teacher

Dear Dave,

Yes, summer vacation is the perfect time to introduce our kids to the types of plants we live with every day and are dependent on. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains are all different types of plants that provide us with our daily food. Trees provide us with the wood we use for our houses, furniture, and even pencils. And yet, it’s probably the farthest thing from any parent’s mind to talk about with their kids.

Moms and dads can begin the conversation by talking about the importance of trees. They don’t only provide shade on a hot summer day and wood for our houses, they provide the oxygen we breathe. They are such an important part of our everyday existence that, from the beginning of time, mankind has celebrated them because we understood that survival of animals is dependent on trees and other living plants.

For that reason, nations all over the world celebrate trees at different times of the year and call the celebrations by different names. In Israel, it’s called the New Year’s Day of the Trees. In Korea, there is Tree-Loving Week. In Iceland, there is Student’s Afforestation Day and, in India, the National Festival of Tree Planting. Here, in the United States, we celebrate trees on National Arbor Day on the last Friday in April, a holiday that started in Nebraska in 1872.

Most national holidays are celebrations to remember something from the past, but not this one. Holidays that involve planting trees are dedicated to future generations so that they will not only enjoy their beauty and shelter, but be provided with oxygen and wood and other byproducts. Though there is no holiday specifically devoted to plants other than trees, we also need to teach our children the importance of all living plants because they together provide much of the food we eat and create the oxygen we breathe.

Here’s a fun activity to do with your children right in your own backyard:

1. Count how many conifers are in your yard. Explain to your kids that conifers are evergreens—which means they keep their green needles all year.

2. Count how many deciduous trees are in your yard. Explain to your kids that deciduous trees are hardwood trees that lose their leaves in the fall.

3. If you have flowers in your yard, ask your kids if they are annuals or perennials. Annuals need to be planted every year and perennials grow back for two or more years.

4. If you have any fruit trees in your yard such as apples or cherries, decide with your kids when’s a good time to pick the fruit and why.

5. If you have shrubs around your house such as azaleas, see if you can name them.

6. Find vines in your yard that may be growing food like tomatoes, grapes, watermelon or pumpkins. If you don’t have any, consider planting them next summer.

7. Likewise with root vegetables, such as carrots or potatoes. Identify them if they exist and if not, consider planting them next summer.

8. Count how many succulents, such as cacti, are in your house.

9. Look to see if you have any simple plants, such as fungi, mushrooms or algae growing in or around the outside of your house.

10. Talk about photosynthesis, the process through which plants use the energy of sunlight to make their own food. Interesting fact: Because algae produce around three-fourths of the oxygen in the atmosphere; many consider it the most important organism on Earth.

Download my free “I spy a plant” game at

Have fun learning,

Dr. Linda