Learning from nature

Fall in the Midwest is a favorite time of year for many. Many outings and activities center on apple picking, pumpkin farms and leaves as they change colors. This fall, we suggest you add pine trees and pine cones to that list and plan a few experiments.

For little kids (and adults as well!), pine cones can be quite captivating. Your children will have fun collecting the curiously shaped wonders and will build their observation skills as they make predictions and watch the changes occur.

For the experiments, you’ll want to gather pine cones that are still on the tree as well as ones on the ground. Let your child gather other small items that they can compare to the pine cones as well. Have discussions about the differences between the types of trees you found the pine cones under and the different sizes and shapes.

Experiment #1 - Do pine cones float?

Fill containers with water and add the pine cones to see if they float. What about the other leaves, needles, acorns, rocks or other items your child collected? If you have older children, they can record their hypotheses and results along with your preschooler.

Experiment #2 What happens to a pine cone if it’s left in water?

Experiment by placing your pine cones in a bowl of water to find answers. Try different water temperatures for comparison. Usually within a half an hour, your child will see noticeable differences. Use glass bowls or containers for a fun magnifying effect.

Want to open your pine cones up again? Simply set your oven to 250°, put the pine cones on a lined cookie sheet and bake them for an hour. Presto!

A Pine Cone’s Secret

Pine cones protect a pine tree’s seeds. Each pine cone scale protects 1-2 papery, thin seeds. When the seeds are mature, the pine cone falls off the tree, and the pine cone scales dry out. As they dry, they “open” up to release the seeds.

We hope you have fun exploring pine cones with your children, and these interesting discoveries add a little excitement to your adventures.