Have you ever met a tree?
What are some of the characteristics or features of different trees?
Every tree is unique—no two trees are exactly alike.
Perennial plants, like trees, stay alive for many years and you can see them all year long. They don’t die after one year or one season.
Some trees have leaves, some have needles.
Trees are not just pretty, they are important to us for many reasons. Some provide fruit and nuts for food, some provide wood to use to build things, and all trees are important because they produce oxygen for us to breathe.
Many animals and birds depend on trees for food and shade. Some even make their homes in trees!
All trees have roots, trunks, branches and stems, and some kind of leaf or needle.
Trees need sunlight, water, and soil to live and grow.
Some trees lose their leaves or some of their needles every year. Some trees with needles stay green all year.
Drawing paper and something to put paper on so you can draw and write outside
Pencils, crayons, or colored markers
Clear contact paper
Optional: may want to have seat cushions or something to put on the ground to sit on if children go out on wet or muddy days to examine and draw/write about their trees./
Bag or box to keep their materials in
No room required! Need to find many trees so every child or pair can “meet a tree.”
When children complete drawings or posters and make presentations, have them sit in a circle so all can see, hear, and share in discussions.
Ask children the guiding questions:
Have you ever met a tree?
Listen as children share the kinds of trees they have “met ” — trees they have at home, have climbed, have picked fruit from, have seen bird nests in, have watched squirrels climb and scamper on, have sat under on a hot and sunny day, have swung beneath on a swing, have raked and played in the fall leaves of, may even have planted....
Lead discussion to basic understandings that we know many different kinds of trees and that they offer us many different things, from shade, to play, to food.
What are some of the unique characteristics or features of trees?
No two trees are exactly alike, just as no two people are just alike. Think about and share characteristics of some favorite trees. Some ideas:
Today, you are going to “meet a tree ” and be a scientist who observes and studies a tree to learn what special characteristics it has. Then you are going to draw and write about your tree so you can introduce it to others.
Briefly go over what we are going to do with our trees, including
Make observations like a scientist —check it out!
Carefully use your eyes to study the whole tree, from the very top to the very bottom of it! Your eyes are like a camera taking snapshots of how tall or short your tree is, what kind of branches it has, whether it has needles or leaves, if there are any critters in it or any evidence that critters do come and use or live in it...
Look to see what its physical features are.
Does your tree have a smooth or rough trunk? Long willowy branches or short stumpy branches? Does your tree “weep ” or have a rounded top or a pointed, narrow top? Are there leaves or needles? What exactly do the leaves or needles look like? Do you see any flowers, nuts, pine cones or other things growing? Do any critters use the tree or even live in it?
Document your observations like a scientist.
Scientists have to figure out ways to remember what they did and saw and to share their findings with other people. Here are some of the ways you can document your observations:
Make a bark rubbing. Make a rubbing of a leaf or needle. Draw a picture of a leaf, taking special note of the pattern of its “veins. ” Draw the entire tree, paying attention to how it branches and whether its leaves grow in groups or on single stems. Draw the flowers, nuts or other interesting parts. Draw a picture of any critters you see visiting or living in the tree. (If you watch carefully, you may see ants carrying aphids up and down the trunk.) Draw a picture of any critter homes you see —birds ’ nests, squirrels’ nest, hornets’ or bees’ nest. Seal leaves, needles, and twig samples in between pieces of clear contact paper.
Note: You may need to show children an example and demonstrate how to do some of the strategies, such as how to seal leaf and twigs in contact paper or how to do rubbings.
Give children a sack or box that contains the materials they need and go “meet a tree.” Have them share what they are going to look for and do before they go outside to their trees.
If children are working in pairs, let them get together before they go outside. They can talk about whether they are going to split up tasks or if they will each do every activity.
Go outdoors and let children “meet their trees.”
You might give them some guidance such as every 10 minutes or so share that they should move on to drawing their tree, doing bark rubbing, doing leaf or needle rubbing, sketching critters and nests, etc.
Children may need some extra time to document their observations and to complete their activities inside the classroom. Also give them time to practice making a presentation and sharing their drawings, rubbings, sealed samples. and writing.
Let children make their presentations and share their drawings. Listen for evidence that they understand characteristics of all trees, physical features of different kinds of trees, how people and critters enjoy and use trees....
Children may enjoy working on their oral presentations to the point of taping or videotaping their talks. They can listen to or watch their tapes to learn about effective speaking skills and send copies to family members or friends to share what they have done.
Children might showcase their work with an exhibit of their drawings.
Invite a landscaper or nursery owner to come and share information about trees and about their careers.
Children might learn about how important trees are for human and environmental purposes—to prevent soil erosion, to provide shade and winter wind breaks, to produce oxygen. Some may enjoy looking into topics such as logging and rain forest issues. They could research Michigan’s history as a lumber producer.
Contact a county conservationist or another group in the community that plants seedlings every year. Children may get involved in planting. Arbor Day and Earth Day are particularly nice occasions for such a planting. Local maples tend to be prodigious seed producers; you might ask a parent to nurture some “volunteer” trees for a year just for such plantings.
Have children use a field guide or reference book to learn more about their particular kind of tree. (The US Government Printing Office is an inexpensive source of such guides; the MSU Cooperative Extension Service produces one specific to Michigan.) Children may compile their work into a big scrapbook about all their trees. Some children may enjoy studying their trees for a year to see and draw how they change from season to season.
See if a group taps maple trees for syrup in your area. (In southeastern Michigan, try Cranbrook Institute of Science. Let children get involved in the process of making maple syrup, then celebrate with pancakes and syrup!
Visit a nursery and let children “meet” many different kinds of trees and learn about why people buy and plant certain kinds of trees. Children might design a yard, park, or school playground and include different kinds of trees for different purposes, such as shade, homes for birds and squirrels, wind protection in the winter, flowering trees for spring, pine trees for greenery all year....
Visit the National Audubon Society’s Birder Homepage to learn about bird watching, habitats, bird feeders, migration patterns, rare and common birds, and current bird research. You can also link to bird museums, magazines and organizations!
Children could visit an apple orchard in the fall, pick some apples, and study different varieties of apple and fruit trees. They could check out recipes and have an “experimental kitchen” to test recipes like apple pies, crisps, and cakes. They could make applesauce, apple butter, and apple leather.
Some children might like to try our Solar Apple Baker lesson to learn about drying fruits by using solar energy.
These storybooks also are fun to read as a follow-up to this activity:
Plan an environmental field trip: