Dig Those Holes

K, 1, 2

Students learn that Johnny Appleseed planted trees for selfless reasons as well as reasons related to his own interests. The students use their time and talent to plant trees in a common area.

Lesson Rating 
PrintThree Forty-Five Minute Class Periods, Plus a Field Trip for Planting (and optional time for obtaining donated trees or raising money)

The learner will:

  • discuss the benefits of planting trees in a common location.
  • choose a common area within the community to plant some trees.
  • get permission to plant the trees.
  • find a source for donated trees.
  • prepare the area for tree planting.
  • dig holes and plant trees.
  • maintain the planted trees over time.
  • Trees for planting (teacher may obtain in advance)
  • Shovels and water source
  • Master gardener/parents/volunteers to assist children
  • Black-pot hats (see Handout One: Johnny Appleseed’s Hat)
  • Copies of "Johnny Appleseed Grace" (Handout Two) for each student
  • Aluminum foil, one 22" long sheet per student
  • Tag board, cut in 20"x 4" rectangles, one per student
  • Black poster board, cut in 14"x 1" strips, one per student
  • Staplers and tape
Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework: The students take home their pot hats and copies of the Johnny Appleseed Grace. They may wear their pots and sing the song for their families.



  1. Anticipatory Set: Sing the Johnny Appleseed song (Handout Two: Johnny Appleseed Grace) and encourage the students to sing along with you as they learn the tune and words.

  2. Ask the students why Johnny Appleseed planted apple trees. Talk about whether he was selfish or selfless in his actions. Read through the words of the song together and look for hints about what he did for the common good and what was in his own self interest.

  3. Talk about the reasons to plant trees in our time. Ask the following questions: Would we be selfless if we planted trees in a common area of our community? What would be the benefits to the community? What would be the benefits to us? Does anyone have a suggestion for a place in our community where we could plant trees?"

  4. Write their ideas for common areas and tell the students that you will investigate these places to find which will work. Later, call the community offices to ask permission to plant in one of the suggested areas.

  5. Guide the students to make their own Johnny Appleseed hats. For younger children, you may prepare in advance or invite assistants to help. See directions in Handout One: Johnny Appleseed’s Hat.

  6. When the hats are complete, sing the Johnny Appleseed song again while students wear their hats.

  7. Day Two:

  8. Tell the students which common area you selected for the tree planting. Tell them that it is important to write a letter to get permission for planting in the area. Depending on the age and experience of the students, write a letter together or assign the responsibility to one student or a small group of students. The letter should state the reason for the planting and the intended number of trees.

  9. Type the letter in the proper format. Show the students how to address the letter and send it. Tell the students that they can either buy some trees with money they earn or ask organizations or individuals to donate the trees. Present some options, such as Arbor Day Foundation (check the web site for free trees http://www.arborday.org).. Make a plan and obtain the desired number of trees. (This may take several days.)

  10. Optional:

  11. Day Three: Field trip to plant trees the teacher will need to plan for transportation, volunteers, permission slips and procedure.

  12. Prior to the field trip:

  13. Plant the trees. (Instructions for planting trees can be found at http://www.treehelp.com/howto/howto-plant-a-tree.aspLet the students do the work with the assistance of the adults. While at the site, sing "Johnny Appleseed Grace," and encourage the students to wear the pot hats on their heads. (Teacher Note: Take a picture to be used in a classroom scrapbook or community promotion of the event.)

  14. Upon returning to the classroom, talk about the experience. Give the students a chance to express the good feelings that come from doing something for the common good. "What did you like best about the field trip? What do we need to do to maintain these trees? If we were to go back in 3, 6, 9 months, what would the trees look like? What are the benefits to the community of our actions today? How does that make you feel? What shall we do for the common good next?"


Assessment will be accomplished through teacher observation during the reflection time. Ask the students to draw pictures of what they think the trees might look like in 3, 6 and 9 months and 20 years (put themselves in the pictures).

Cross Curriculum 

Students give their time and talent by planting and maintaining donated trees in a common area. Option: Students may also raise the money or contact donors for the trees.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.4 Define and give examples of selfishness and selflessness.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.2 Identify why people practice philanthropy related to their own self-interest.
  3. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark E.2 Research the need in the school, neighborhood, local community, state, nation, or world.
    2. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark E.2 Describe the goals of the project and their impact.
      2. Benchmark E.3 Describe the task and the student role.
    3. Standard VS 05. Integrating the Service Experience into Learning
      1. Benchmark E.3 Identify outcomes from the service.