Noticing Trees

Livingstone Elementary glory

Autumn arrives differently, depending on where you happen to live in the world.   In my life as a Vancouverite in British Columbia, the experience of the season is heralded by trees. You would have to be hard pressed not to notice the reds, yellows, oranges, burgundy and browns of the trees in fall.   We learned in school about how Indigenous people on the west coast depended on cedar for many purposes and learned first-hand about it’s ability to deflect water.  We sought shelter under large Douglas fir trees that loomed overhead.  We sought out chestnut trees and conifers to use in playground wars and classroom crafts.  However, the true awesomeness of fall came from the deciduous trees as yellows, oranges, and reds burst out overhead to announce the changing of the season.    

This fall I was not in Vancouver.  My travels took me to our family cabin, in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  On Silver Lake, the brilliance of fall was announced with the large stands of Trembling Aspen trees, sometimes called Quaking Aspen, turning a bright yellow with hints of orange.  The red of towering maple trees were not to be found.  Different area, different trees.  The massive cones of the ponderosa pine, the tiny cones of the sequoia, the long cones of the lodgepole pine, and berry-like cones of the juniper were the source on investigation on daily hikes.  Needles and leaves were examined.  The internet was used to answer questions and drive new questions, along with my background knowledge derived from lifelong investigations of other trees.

As a child, everywhere I frequented included a favourite tree.  The Weeping Willows at Tatlow Park were brilliant to run through and create fairy tale kingdoms.  Long whips were broken off to tame dragons, encouraging horses to run, and perhaps annoying cousins too.  The Monkey tree, also in Tatlow Park, was used to explore new heights and provide a “safe zone” during games of tag.  The apple tree at my house was to hide, read, and develop new physical feats.  The large Oak tree at the school was to develop escape skills during chase games with the boys.  The hiding tree at Jericho Beach was used to develop spy skills.  Those trees were regular parts of my regular routine, and became the basis for what I knew about trees, games, and my imaginative play.

Home to the fairies in our midst

Not all children are not given the opportunity to get to know trees in this very personal way.  However, this can be structured by encouraging your own children, or perhaps your students to encourage them to pay attention to trees.  The smell.  The size.  The animal life around and in it.  The cyclical changes as the seasons change.  The possibilities for integrating it into play.  Observing trees can provoke inquiry and send students to source materials to confirm predications and develop cross-curricular knowledge.  It lends itself to develop thinking skills analysis of observations, analysis of data collected and by helping children to make connections.  It provides a rich source of material for imaginative play, as well as factual knowledge. 

For those people not lucky enough to be surrounded by trees that can be adopted, you may want to plant a tree that will thrive in your area.  I am in the process of growing a lemon tree that was given to me by one of my school operating engineers (known as janitors in some school districts).  It was thriving before I left for the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Hopefully that it is still the case.  It has taught me all kinds of things, including that the long, sharp, green spikes are to protect the fruit from birds.  I moved it inside for the winter to prevent it from getting too soggy and too cold.  

It is well worth directing children to trees to stimulate their inquisitiveness, calm their mind, and feed their imagination. Neighbourhood trees or trees you plant can serve the purpose. Experience the joy from the interactions.

Wild About Vancouver (WAV) Wednesday.

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