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Arbor Day Poster Contest in Schools

DEC's Urban and Community Forestry (UCF) Program announces a new format of its Arbor Day School Poster Contest program to make it more inclusive and flexible. Teachers may hold a poster contest within their educational program at any time of year using one of the Arbor Day themes suggested below and optionally have their efforts celebrated on DEC's social media pages.

How to Participate

The DEC Urban and Community Forestry Program invites educators to carry on the tradition of the Arbor Day Artwork Contest within their classroom, school, district, home school, afterschool program, or other educational program! UCF is grateful to teachers who educate their students about urban and community forestry and applauds students for engaging with trees in school.

To celebrate these efforts, DEC UCF wishes to use social media to share the accomplishments of teachers and students around the state. If interested in broadcasting your students' achievements on DEC social media, educators may submit photos (for example: a picture of the winning poster, a group of exemplary posters, students working on their posters, the winning student holding their poster, or the whole class holding up their posters) and a completed poster program form (PDF) to UCF will make its best efforts to celebrate as many students and teachers as possible, though social media inquiries will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and are not guaranteed to be fulfilled.

Below are some suggestions of rules, themes, lesson plans, and educational resources to build a tree-centered poster contest or educational unit. Teachers are encouraged to reach out to DEC Urban and Community Forestry for support with their Arbor Day poster unit.

Example Contest Guidelines

The contest guidelines below are intended to help educators structure the contest, but we encourage participants to adjust them to best fit their classroom or program. All components of this program are intended for the educators' benefit in order to promote urban and community forestry education.


Any variety of media may be used (watercolor, pen and ink, crayon, chalk, markers, etc.) but bright colors are often best. If students make a collage, all items should remain secured to their artwork. Educators may decide to provide a consistent poster size to each student or provide parameters for students to follow.


We suggest having students prominently display the contest theme by writing it as a title or working it into the poster design. Other ideas for structuring this activity include listing a few key facts, drawing a diagram, or some other design to show students' understanding of the contest theme. Alternatively, this could be used as an art activity to help students connect to classroom curriculum. Help students connect with trees and learn the different parts by encouraging the use of leaves, needles, twigs, cones, and bark in the poster.

Evaluation Criteria

Example criteria educators may use to evaluate posters include:

  1. Poster is reflective of the contest theme.
  2. Poster message is clearly conveyed by text and artwork.
  3. Poster shows creativity, originality, and artistic quality.
  4. Poster shows visual clarity and can be easily read.
  5. Words are spelled correctly, and information is accurate.

Sample Contest Themes and Activities

The following themes and activities are only suggestions and can be used as a starting point for facilitating the tree poster unit in your classroom. We encourage educators to change and expand upon these themes to better fit your lessons and to promote urban and community forestry education.

Theme 1: Trees are Terrific in Cities and Towns

This theme is designed to increase understanding of the importance of trees in a community. Find corresponding activities provided by the Arbor Day Foundation (PDF - leaves DEC website).

trees are terrific poster
Winning poster of the 2009 NYS poster contest

Theme 2: Healthy Trees, Healthy People

This theme educates students about the benefits of trees that help keep people healthy. Trees near our homes and in our parks help keep people healthy by providing shade, providing healthy foods, improving air quality, encouraging active lives, and encouraging better mental wellbeing. The following lesson plans connect trees and the resources they provide to New York State learning standards.

healthy trees healthy people poster
The winning image for the calendar cover from the 2021 contest
Theme 3: Trees are Terrific Inside and Out

This theme is designed to increase understanding of how trees grow and function. Find corresponding activities provided by the Arbor Day Foundation (PDF - leaves DEC website).

trees are terrific poster
Winner of the 2008 NYS poster contest

Theme 4: Trees are Terrific and Energy Wise

This is designed to increase knowledge about the importance of trees in the production and conservation of energy. Corresponding activities provided by the Arbor Day Foundation (PDF - leaves DEC website). Trees provide beauty to our communities and many products that we utilize in our daily lives. But trees also provide a benefit that often goes unnoticed - trees produce and conserve energy. Students will learn how trees produce food energy for people and wildlife, how properly selected and planted trees conserve energy, and much more.

trees are terrific poster
2010 NYS poster contest winning entry

Theme 5: Share Your Tree Story

The UCF program in Vermont has held a contest around the theme Share Your Tree Story. They have provided activity guides and linked them to Common Core standards and others. View the activity packet for 2022 provided by Vermont Urban and Community Forestry (PDF - leaves DEC website).

backyard sugar maple watercolor poster
2022 5th grade winning entry in Vermont's Share Your Tree Story contest

Additional Resources for Teacher

For general tree-related lesson plan ideas, visit Project Learning Tree, the National Wildlife Federation, or the Arbor Day Foundation's Learning Hub (all links leave DEC website).

Inspire kids to care for trees by:

  • planting a tree at your school for Arbor Day. In spring, participate in DEC's School Seedling program to get free trees for your students.
  • teaching them to protect trees by not ripping off bark, leaves or branches.
  • learning about invasive species and looking for them together - then encouraging them to share their sightings on iMapInvasives (leaves DEC website) to help researchers.
  • celebrating Arbor Day at your school and in your town.


These activities satisfy NYSED Grade 5 Science Learning Standards #4 & 7, Art Learning Standards #1 & 2, and several Math Learning Standards:

Articles and books

  • Nature's Color Palette (PDF) - Conservationist article about why and how leaves change color.
  • The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. This book covers the relationship between the outdoors and health.