• Shawna

"The Happy Pine Tree": A Walking Story About A Tree

Updated: Feb 3

Trees and forest study is a unit in the Alberta Grade 6 Science curriculum. It’s a beautiful little unit that we used to kick off our homeschool science in September. This fall was mild and colourful so we spent alot of time exploring our local trees and forests.

We drove to the mountains to see some larches and hiked Arethusa Cirque.

We hiked an urban trail by the Bow River to identify the difference between Douglas Fir and White Spruce. Coincidentally, it is the only stand of Douglas Fir east of the Rocky Mountains.

And we spent a lazy afternoon exploring our native aspens.

We kicked off our tree and forest study with “The Happy Pine Tree” story.

Now, half my family loved this story, and the other half though it was unfinished. That’s because I was experimenting with writing a walking story: a story that follows the observations of a single character/protagonist without following a plot line that builds to a climax and offers a resolution.

The challenge with this format is to give the story a point. In this case, it was capturing the observations of the protagonist (the pine tree) through four seasons. I love how this story focuses on the details available from the static position of the tree as the cycles and seasons unfold around him.

Here are four ways to bring the Happy Pine Tree activities into your Tree and Forest learning:

1. Read The Happy Pine Tree to prime all four senses before heading outside.

As you’re venturing outside to observe, you can ask your kids: What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you feel? What do you notice? You can tailor your specific questions from macro to micro observations depending on their age, abilities and interests. Have them sit or stand in the forest and pretend they are the Happy Pine tree.

2. Use the walking story format for writers of all levels to write a follow-up journal entry/short writing of their own.

The beautify of a walking story is its flexibility. It’s personal. It can be accessible for a variety of ages and stages of writing skills. And it doesn’t even have to be more than a few strong sentences that capture a feeling or a sensory experience of your tree observations.

Encourage reluctant writers to focus on one sense (what they saw, felt, smelled, or heard), or ask them to come up with a list of four or five juicy words that could describe what they experienced. In this case, let the list of words be the assignment that you can perhaps integrate into a few short sentences as a follow-up activity the next day.

3. Pick a single spot to sketch a tree/forest and go back every few months to capture seasonal changes.

Our sketching day was sunny and breezy. It was a perfect spot for us to return to each season to sketch a beautiful little aspen. While we were there, I had the spontaneous idea to sketch the shadows of the trees on our journal page, however the wind was a bit too strong, and it became far too abstract for my girls! We did however, have a little bug pose for us which was remarkable.

4. Build a simple clinometer to integrate your tree walk with math and measure the height of trees.

WE HAVE NOT YET DONE THIS ACTIVITY but will once we start Grade 6 geometry. I LOVE the idea of integrating subjects. It’s a learning two-for-one! A clinometer is a simple device made from a straw, protractor, string and washer, and is a great way to take math outside, or bring nature into math. Either way, I’ll update this post once we complete this and share our experiences.

(image: aneehsmae.blogspot.com)

Are you excited to kick-start your tree and forest study with The Happy Pine Tree?

Don’t forget, you can read it for free with a two-week trial subscription to Everyday Icing.

STORY DETAILS: "The Happy Pine Tree"


This "walking story" captures the experience of a lone pine tree in a deciduous forest. It highlights the beauty of being true to yourself regardless of the environment.

Read aloud time: 5 minutes

Format: read-aloud

Genre: magic realism

Subject: science

Topic: community

Themes/Keywords: coniferous tree, deciduous tree, forest, deer, skunk, aspen, poplar

Protagonist 1: tree

Protagonist 2: animal

Word Count: 803

Audio File: yes

"The Happy Pine Tree" Discussion Questions:

1. Do you like the format of this story? Why or why not?

2. What do you think makes the pine tree happy?

3. What species of trees are in your local geography? What personalities would these tree have? Would they be chatty and gossipy like the aspens?

4. What characteristics do deciduous and coniferous trees have in common? What makes them different?

5. Why are some of the other forest creatures quick to assume the pine tree is lonely or unhappy?

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