I’m not going to lie: I almost didn’t survive last winter. Between the epic snow totals, freezing temps, poorly timed home renovation, and never-ending winter illnesses, I barely made it out with my sanity intact. I’ve lived in New England for my entire 37-years and I always prided myself in not whining about winter. After all, we choose to live here and there’s nothing quite like spring in New England after a long winter. That said, I complained about it in full-force last winter. In fact, despite our fantastic soak-up-every-second summer, there is a part of me that is dreading this winter.
I keep telling myself that there can’t be another winter like that one. Still, I have some residual winter blues and I’m determined, come hell or high water, to make the best of this winter.
We’re going to attempt to savor every chilly little flake, folks!
I thought it would be really fun to plan a maple syrup unit study. After all, when you think about it, maple sugaring offers you the opportunity to study several subjects. Plus, there is a sweet treat waiting for you at the end of the road, just when spring is starting to make its blessed appearance!
And that’s where Tap My Trees comes in!
Planning a Maple Sugaring Unit Study
Disclosure: I received a Tap My Trees Starter Kit for Teachers at no cost and was compensated for my time to write about our plans. I was not required to write a positive review. As always, all opinions are my own. I only share products that I would use with my own family and that I think others will enjoy.
Making your own maple syrup at home covers several important homeschool bases
We are excited to explore maple sugaring this winter, with the help of Tap My Trees. In addition to being downright delicious, a maple syrup unit study covers the following important homeschool bases:
Early settlers learned about the maple sugaring process from Native Americans.
Science & Nature–
In order to make maple syrup, you must know how to identify trees. In addition, you must understand the process by which trees produce sap, and the impact that temperatures have on that process. Finally, in order to make your own maple syrup you must understand boiling points and evaporation.
Did you know that the sap-to-sugar ratio is 40:1? That means that it takes ten gallons of sap to make just one quart of syrup!
Cooking is a life skill, and learning to make maple syrup is a great way to make life skills fun and delicious! Once you’ve made your syrup, there are oodles of mouth-watering recipes that call for maple syrup!
If you want to tap a maple tree, this is what you must do now
The most important thing to do right now is to identify your tree.
There are several varieties of maple trees. Sugar maples are the most commonly recognized tree when it comes to maple sugaring, as they have the highest sugar content, but you can also tap black, red, and silver maples.
Here is what you want to look for and remember:
- Healthy-looking trees without signs of injury.
- Trees must have a minimum 12-inch diameter in order to support one tap.
- A healthy maple with a diameter of 21-27 inches can support two taps.
- A healthy maple with a diameter of greater than 27 inches can support three taps.
- Make sure you can access your tree, despite snow, because you’ll need to empty that bucket!
While you can certainly identify bare trees, the easiest way to identify trees is when they still have their leaves!
By the time you read this post, your leaves will be on the ground. An easy way to learn about tree identification at home is by using a tree identification guide. We like these handy little books and have an entire collection of them for use in our DIY Nature Explorer Packs:
I plan to incorporate tree identification into our unit study. I hope to include the following subjects when discussing tree identification:
- Tree names
- Leaf identification
My mind is overflowing with possible activities for this topic. From collecting leaves to creating our very own field guides complete with kid art and photography!
Our tree search:
We started looking for our tree in late October. We scoured every inch of our property for a maple tree that fit the requirements for tapping. We have a lot of trees in our yard but, alas, we could not find a maple with a diameter greater than 12 inches. This alone was a learning process. We learned that our yard is comprised of pines, oak, and birch, with a lot of very young maples growing on the forest floor.
Everywhere we go, we find amazing maple trees… they just aren’t located in our backyard!
Thankfully, we have generous friends who had no issue with us tromping through their yard this winter and collecting their tree sap. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: My momtourage is amazing!
***Edited to add: We found two trees in our yard! Actually, my husband found them. They aren’t super convenient to tap in the event that we get mountains of snow, but we are determined to make syrup from trees in our own backyard anyway! We’ll use our snowshoes if necessary! ***
Gather your maple sugaring supplies
Tap My Trees is the top supplier of maple sugaring kits for hobbyists and the company is a supporter of maple sugaring in the education setting. Tap My Trees donates approximately 3000 spiles a year to nature centers! Doesn’t that just fill your bucket?
We received a Starter Kit for Teachers from Tap My Trees, shown here:
The Starter Kit for Teachers costs $74.95 and includes:
- Maple sugaring lesson plan
- Maple Sugaring at Home
- 1 2-gallon aluminum bucket
- 1 metal lid
- 1 spile with hook
- 1 drill bit
- 1 12 oz. bottle with lid
- Candy thermometer
If you would like to tap more than one tree, Tap My Trees also offers a Starter Kit with Aluminum Buckets, which contains supplies for tapping three trees.
The sugaring process, in a nutshell
Once you have your maple sugaring supplies and you’ve identified your tree(s), you are ready to tap! The best time to tap depends on your location and weather conditions. Sap begins to flow when daytime temps rise above freezing but nighttime temps dip below freezing. In general, maple sap begins to flow between early February and March, and will continue to flow for 4-6 weeks. You can expect to collect anywhere between five and fifteen gallons of sap per tap each maple sugaring season.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Collect and clean your supplies
- Determine where to tap
- Drill the tap hole
- Insert the spile
- Hang the bucket
- Attach the lid
- Collect and store sap
- Make your maple syrup!
- Clean up your supplies and store for next year
Looking for something to do between maple tree identification and tapping?
If your kids are as excited to make their own maple syrup as mine are, it can be a long time to wait between now and late winter. This is where the unit study comes into play. If you plan now, you can make your children into maple sugaring experts by the time it comes to tap and collect!
Here are some of my maple sugaring unit study plans:
- Tree identification and related activities
- Explore the history of maple sugaring
- Maple tree art
- Discuss the science and math involved in maple sugaring
- Take a field trip to a nature center to learn more about maple sugaring and to observe tree tapping before we try to do it ourselves
- Read tons of good books about maple sugaring
And… here are the books we are planning to read during our unit study
It wouldn’t be a My Little Poppies post without some book recommendations. I have to be honest here, folks: I haven’t yet read these but I did select them carefully and I can’t wait to get started on our reading journey! And, please, if you have any to add, send me an email!
Interested in how it turned out?
Check out our second post in this series:
Want to see more from Tap My Trees?
Tell me, folks: What is the most delicious unit study you’ve ever planned?
Cait co-hosts The Homeschool Sisters Podcast and is co-founder of Raising Poppies, a community for parents of gifted and twice-exceptional children. Cait is also founder of the Family Book Club at My Little Poppies, a fantastic community of book-loving parents and the Gameschool Community at My Little Poppies, a vibrant community of gameschoolers.
Cait is a contributing writer for Simple Homeschool. Her work has also appeared on The Huffington Post, The Mighty, Scary Mommy, GeekMom, and many others. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram