Here in western Massachusetts, nothing says spring is on its way like the tapping of trees in February. With the perfect combination of cold nights and warm days, the sap starts to flow and fill the sap buckets. After a couple of trips to fill the evaporator at the sugarhouse, the syrup is flowing and mouths are watering.
In the classroom, doing a unit on sugaring is a great way to examine how technology has changed over time. When shown spigots made of wood, plastic, and metal, students have a chance to create a real time line and see firsthand how tapping has changed. Comparing the transportation of sap by horse, oxen, and automobile is another concrete way for children to learn about changes and at the same time, to enjoy some of rural New England traditions. The books below will help you bring some maple goodness into your classroom.
Written by Anne Isaacs
Illustrated by Mark Teague
Your students will probably recognize Mark Teague as the illustrator of the How Do Dinosaurs . . . series, and they'll surely enjoy his large and fun illustrations here. In Pancakes for Supper! Toby trades her winter gear to keep from being bothered by a series of wild animals. By the story's end, Anne Isaacs cleverly wraps things up with a maple syrup creation story. Don't miss the yummy recipe on the back of the book jacket.
If you want more ideas on how to use this book in your classroom, check out this teaching guide.
Maple Syrup Season
Written by Ann Purmell
Illustrated by Jill Weber
The first thing your students will notice about Maple Syrup Season is the charming and folksy illustrations. They're filled with cute animals and interesting viewpoints. They'll also learn what a sugar bush is as they follow Hannah and Hayden around their grandfather's farm. Filled with relevant vocabulary, the book is a great introduction to how maple syrup is made. For an extension activity, try the "My Sugar Bush" writing and drawing prompt.
The Maple Syrup Book
By Marilyn Linton
Kids Can Press
I'm always impressed by the titles put out by Kids Can Press, and The Maple Syrup Book is no exception. It touches on everything maple and will provide you with background information, including sections on photosynthesis, how Native Peoples and pioneers tapped trees, and syrup making today. It also includes maple syrup recipes, a make-your-own mokuk template and directions on how to forecast when sap will be running.
Written by Jessie Haas
Illustrated by Jos. A. Smith
Sugaring has become the classic maple sugaring book and a must-have for the classroom. My students are always interested in how Gramp and Nora go through the sugaring process. They also get a kick out of horses Bonnie and Stella. I like to pair this book with Kathryn Lasky's Sugaring Time. The two books combined are an inspiration to create to a maple mural.
Ininatig's Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugarmaking
Written by Laura Waterman Wittstock
Illustrated by Dale Kakkak
Lerner Publishing Group
I believe this title may be out of print, but you should be able to find a used copy. It's designed in a photo essay format, with wonderful photographs of the Anishinabe people of Minnesota sugaring, using traditional and contemporary techniques. The book starts with a maple sugar tale, contains great close-up shots and ends with a glossary. A great title for your multicultural collection.
A Sweet Tradition: The Love and Labor of Maple Sugaring
By Steve Alves
I have been using this movie with my students for about ten years now and they love it. Some of the commentary is geared for an older audience, but it's easy enough to pause the movie for clarification. The children especially enjoy seeing the oxen at work and the mug of hot maple syrup. If you're teaching about sugaring, this movie is a must-have. Copies of A Sweet Tradition can be purchased at Mr. Alves's Web site.
Have you thought about tapping a tree with your class? If you have access to a maple tree, it's doable and a wonderful science activity. The Massachusetts Maple Producers Association is a great resource for all things maple. Once you've boiled or bought your own syrup, try my Aunt Nancy's Sourdough Pancake recipe with your students. It's one I grew up with and one that my students now enjoy.
If you're looking for visuals to lead some conversations about sugaring, try these mini posters such as "Firing Up the Evaporator," "Checking the Sap," "A Tapped Tree," "The Collecting Tank," and "Filling a Syrup Jug" for your classroom.
Once you have an idea of what an evaporator looks like, provide your students with some tinfoil and large cardboard boxes. They'll have your dramatic play center turned into a sugarhouse in no time!