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Winter Seeds

I am thankful for the evergreens, especially at this time of the year when other trees are bare and many animals have migrated to warmer climes. Evergreens provide a bit of color, their green needles glistening in the winter sunlight, in our now mostly monotone winter landscape, and they hold the promise of new life come spring, i.e., pine cones. Recently I took my twin girls’ first-grade class for a walk around the play-yard to collect seeds. The kids quickly found maple copters under the maples and acorns under the oaks, but when I picked up a pine cone, they were skeptical. I explained that these strange bumpy packages contain loads of seeds all nestled together at the center of the cone. Seeds are full of surprises.

I had a little fun with the group by putting a fidget spinner in a mystery bag and asked them to guess what it was and what kind of seed it might be like. They all quickly guessed the spinning maple copter. Next, I put a peanut in the bag and asked them what it was most like. “An acorn!” they all shouted.

After the students collected seeds for a bit, they spent a few moments sorting seeds on a white piece of paper using whatever criteria they wanted to use. We had a “Gallery Walk” where the students visited the collections and had to guess the sorting criteria used before coming back together to share our observations. Some sorted by size, some by color, others by texture, and one by sound (which ones rattled and which didn’t). One child sorted by smell (not sure exactly how these were grouped, but I love the idea of using all of the senses to observe their collections). It was a simple activity that sparked many good questions and made me notice things I hadn’t before.

We ended by playing a variation on “Duck, Duck, Goose,” where “acorns” sat in a circle while three classmates were picked to be the sun, the rain, and a squirrel. If an acorn was tapped on the head by the rain or sun, it sprouted; if the squirrel tapped the acorn, it was “eaten.”

Back in the classroom, we talked about the seed cycle and read Because of an Acorn written by Lola M. Schaefer and Adam Schaefer with illustrations by Frann Preston-Gannon. The book begins and ends with the acorn; in between, we encounter the animals and elements of nature that come into contact with the acorn.

Earlier in the week, the class read A Seed Is Sleepy written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long. This book beautifully illustrates the diversity of seeds and describes how seeds are dispersed and sprout. We looked at the page about gymnosperms and talked about what that funny word meant. (The term literally means “naked seed” because the seed doesn’t have a fruit growing around it, but I think these are the best disguised seeds around.)

It is a great joy to find life in a season where seeds (and many creatures) are sleepy. We learn about the cycles of nature and are reminded that everything will soon be in bloom again.

Recommended titles

Because of an Acorn writtten by Lola M. Schaefer and Adam Schaefer, illus. by Frann Preston-Gannon (Chronicle, 2016).

A Seed Is Sleepy written by Dianna Hutts Aston, illus. by Sylvia Long (Chronicle, 2007).

Visit Susan’s blog for more of her thoughts about these and other nature-themed picture books.

Susan Olcott About Susan Olcott

Susan Olcott lives in Maine with her husband and six-year old twin girls. She's played on lobster boats while getting her M.S. in Marine Science, designed and led snorkeling and kayaking tours in San Diego for the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Birch Aquarium, taken kids on bike tours in Europe and the U.S., and taught biology to military personnel in Sardinia, Italy.



  1. Hi Susan,
    This is a great out doors activity that I will recommend to families that I work with.
    Thank you

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