Lesson: What Trees Can Tell Us

Trees gain one ring per year, like candles on a birthday cake. In this activity, students use tree rings to tell the story of a tree and its environment. Download the lesson plan and answer key here. Fit for elementary education.


Subjects: Plant science, natural science, simply math, historic preservation
Materials: Worksheet, glossary, and answer key (download) & pencil
Time: 25 minutes
5th grade reading level; basic counting and math; making comparison statements



Dendrochronology is the science of using tree rings to learn about the age and history of a piece of wood. Say the word out loud:

“ den-dro-chron-ol-o-gy ”

Dendrochronology is not only used for trees. Dendrochronology helps people learn about wooden buildings. Tree rings can also tell historians about the climate from long ago.

At Tudor Place, scientists took samples of wood from parts of the old house. The scientists used dendrochronology to learn what year the wood was cut down from a tree. They can’t know exactly, but they can make a good guess. The scientists discovered that parts of the building were older than we had thought. We can learn history through trees!

Learn how to read tree rings. Then find out what trees can tell us!

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Craft: At Home Reproduction Object Exhibit

Watch the Education team reproduce Major George Peter’s 19th-century steel pocket watch, from the Tudor Place Collection & Archive, with recycled materials found at home.

20 Minute Craft:
Pretend you are working at a museum. Your historic object, or “artifact,” is too fragile to put in your exhibit. You will have to make a copy!

Look at your object. What materials do you see? What colors do you see? Use recycled materials to craft a reproduction of your object. Now it is ready to go on display!

– Glue, tape, scissors, markers
– Decorations of your choice
– Recycled materials
– Object you want to recreate (we chose a watch from our collection catalog)

Talk Together:
Why would a museum create a copy, or “reproduction,” of an object instead of putting the real one on display? Sunlight can harm objects, like paper. Sometimes an object is too fragile to display for extended periods. Occasionally, a reproduction object is made to complete a matching set.

Craft as many reproductions as you’d like to complete your At Home Reproduction Object Exhibit!

Go further! Learn about Collections Management:
At Tudor Place there is a person in charge of keeping all the historic objects safe. This person is called a “collections manager.” The collections manager decides if an object can go on display in an exhibit, or if the museum should make a reproduction. Collections managers do lots of other types of work, too. Learn more here:

“A Day in the Life of a Collections Manager” (Museums Association, 4 minute video)

Make a mount for an object in storage (British Columbia Museums Association, 5 minute video)

Make a custom box for a teapot (Mount Heritage Center, 12 minute video)


Questions? Comments? Photos to share? Email us with your Education at Home needs: education@tudorplace.org

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The Washington Post – A Curious Manuscript Sends Tudor Place’s Archivist on a History Hunt

The first clue to the story behind the papers discovered in the basement of the Georgetown mansion was who didn’t write them.