Have you ever seen a photo series that shows the same tree in all four seasons? The idea of photographing a single tree throughout the year has always fascinated us. As we travel through the seasons we often notice how trees change as the calender moves forward, and we may even take note of a particular tree or two in our neighborhood. This year we have decided to really get intimate with a tree and dedicate the whole year to researching and studying our tree. Since the fall transition is already so heavily focused on trees and their changing leaves we thought this would be a great time to start!
What We Want to Know
We started talking about what we wanted to know about our tree and began to make a list. During this process the kids recalled things they already knew about trees in our yard which gave them ideas about which tree they might want to pick for our observations.
Your list may be shorter or longer than our list below, but let the kids lead the way; they may go deeper than ever thought possible. (And things will most likely be added to the list as the year progresses and observations are made.)
Our Tree Examination List
- What does the bark feel like? Smell like? Does that change with the seasons?
- Is there anything growing on the bark? If so, what is it? Does it hurt or help the tree?
- Are there any holes in the bark? What could have made them?
- Do any insects use our tree for a home/hunting/feeding ground?
- Can we see the roots? If we can see the roots, how do they feel and does that change with the seasons? Do they feel the same or different than the bark?
- Is the trunk of the tree straight, crooked, twisted, bent, etc… What could have caused it to grow that way?
- What shape are the leaves? Broad leaves or needles? Are there things growing on the leaves? Has anything been eating the leaves? If so, can we figure out what?
- Does our tree keep its leaves year-round or drop them in the fall?
- Are there any galls on our tree? On the leaves, twigs, or somewhere else?
- Do any birds nest in the tree? What birds do we see perched there?
- Does the tree produce anything edible to humans?
- Does it have seeds or cones?
Extending the Study (things to do in each season)
We then talked about other things we can do with and around our tree throughout the year.
While more ideas are sure to come up as the year progresses here are a few we brainstormed:
- We want to sit it under our tree on a rainy day. Does it protect us from the rain? What does it sound like?
- Laying down under our tree on a windy day also sounded like fun. What does it sound like? Look like? Will that change if the tree looses leaves?
- We also thought it would be good to look for other trees of the same species nearby and check them over to see if there are any differences. Do they look older? Younger? Is their bark different? Do the same insects live there?
- There are lots of options for art projects related to trees. A few the kids wanted to do include: leaf rubbings, bark rubbings, and dipping the leaves in wax.
How to Begin
Now that you have a list of things you might want to look for and a few things to do… Head out to pick a tree!
We decided that we would like to study a tree close to home so we could make regular observations and see even the smallest changes as we spent time in the yard and playing about. It can be right in your own backyard, down the street at the local park or even at the house of a relative nearby. Just about any tree will work, as long as you can check in on it regularly and get up close to examine the details.
After a survey of the yard, and the many options available, we picked an old maple that stands in a group of maples on our side yard. It has branches that are low enough for us to access for observations of leaves, buds, and the creatures that live and feed on them, and it is close to home for frequent observation.
What to Do
Make some observations letting the kids pick out the parts they want to investigate to begin.
Look up your tree in a guide book or online to see if you can identify what type of tree you have. Involve the kids in looking at the leaves, buds, bark, etc… to help with identification. If you are having trouble with an ID pop on into the Mud Puddles to Meteors Facebook Group for some help or visit a local nursery to look around and ask a local expert (bring a picture and maybe a leaf sample).
Create a notebook for recording observations. Each time check in with your tree take a few notes, see if the kids can answer some of the questions, take an opportunity to do an activity with the tree, or just simply sit under your tree and enjoy the experience. The notebook can also include notes about those experiences, a poem, or sketch. Anything you and your children want to add will enhance the study.
Decide on a timeline and how frequently you want to check in with your tree. While impromptu exploration is encouraged, it can be good to have some dates to keep everything on track. Write it in on your calendar and maybe do a little review of your notebook, noting what you have seen and what you wanted to know about, before you head out to make a few more observations.
You probably won’t cover everything on your list to start. That’s okay. This is a year-long project so everything won’t be achieved in a few sessions, or maybe even by the end of the year. If you don’t get to something on the list, that’s okay. A gentle reminder might be all that is needed to spark interest again and some things will loose appeal and may not “get covered.” The important thing here is to learn about the tree, connect with another living thing throughout the seasons, and simple encourage your family to get outside.
Let us know if you pick a tree to study. We would love to see a photo or drawing of your tree, with any other information you would like to share. You can post pictures to the Mud Puddles to Meteors Facebook group, or use the hashtag #mudtometeors on Instagram or Twitter.