Nature Study: Thirty-Six Weeks of Trees
Four days a week, we have our regular science (Apologia General Science for D and Botany this year for S). On Fridays, we have Nature Study. Usually our nature study consists of nature walks, observation, photography, and entries in our nature journals. As the children are growing older now, I believe it is time for some more structured nature study. I decided to study trees for the whole, coming school year. My reason is so that we can better observe the seasonal changes and improve our abilities to identify and understand common trees and tree parts.
My lesson plans (below) are pulled heavily from various resources. Few of the ideas are my own but here are my sources:
What do you think makes a tree a tree, and not a bush or another type of plant? Write your definition of a tree in your nature journal. Compare your definition to the one in the dictionary.
Visit your tree once each week. Notice the things about the tree and around the tree that change and the things that stay the same. Keep a dated record of your observations at your tree.
Look carefully at your adopted tree and notice the things that make your tree different from the others. Write these things down in your nature journal.
Identify your tree and record its Common and Latin names in your nature journal.
What are some things that make your adopted tree a special tree to you? Write these things down in your nature journal.
Draw a map in your nature journal so others could get to your tree.
What green covering does your tree wear? Leaves cover a tree like clothes cover you. Some trees have broad, flat leaves, and some have needles, but all trees have clothes that help them store energy from the sun in the food they make in their leaves. Leaves are really food factories, and this food helps trees grow.
Investigate the leaves or needles on your tree. Find some that have fallen to the ground, or look at several on a low-hanging branch. Are they flat, wide leaves? Do the leaves have smooth or jagged edges? Are they long slender needles? Are the needles bundled together at the bottom? Are all the leaves or needles you can find the same? How are they different? Draw several of them in your nature journal.
In your nature journal, describe the leaf from your tree, paying special attention to its shape, its edges, its color above and below, its veins or ribs, and the relative length and thickness of its petiole. Are the leaves set opposite or alternate upon the twigs? As the leaves begin to fall, can you find two which are exactly the same in size and shape? Draw in your notebook the two leaves which differ most from each other of any that grew on your tree. At what date do the leaves begin to fall from your tree? At what date are they all off the tree?
Measure two of your leaves or needles and record their measurements in your nature journal.
Now take one leaf or needle from your tree and place it on a table - bottom side up - and lay a piece of paper over it. Take the paper wrapper off your crayon, place the crayon sideways over the leaf or needle, and rub gently. You should see the outline of your leaf or needle on the paper. Does it work better to slide the crayon across the paper lengthwise, or to write with it like a pencil? Do this several times and paste your best leaf or needle image in your nature journal.
Green leaves and needles are the food factories of trees. Inside the leaves and needles, energy from the sun is used to combine water from the roots with carbon dioxide from the air to make food for the tree and for animals that eat the leaves or fruit. Trees with flat leaves are often called broad leaf or hardwood trees. Trees with needles are often called conifers, softwoods, or evergreen trees. However, there are trees that drop their needles every year (like bald cypress) so they aren't really evergreen, and there are broad leaf trees that keep these leaves through the winter (like live oak), making them evergreen.
In your nature journal: describe the leaves or needles on your tree. In what ways were all the leaves or needles from your tree the same, and in what ways were they different? Which kind of tree do you have: hardwood, softwood, broad leaf, evergreen?
Find another tree that is similar in type to your tree and compare your tree's leaves to these. In what ways are they similar? In what ways are they different? Why do trees need leaves? Besides trees, what other things store the sun's food energy?
Trees and animals grow in different ways. When people grow, they get bigger all over, from the inside. Trees grow taller because they get longer from the tips of each branch in the spring. They get bigger around from special cells in the trunk right inside the bark, which make more wood and bark. The center of the tree is the oldest part, and it stays in the same place as the tree grows.
Look at the base of the leaves or needles for buds. A bud contains new branch growth. Some buds form leaves or needles; some create flowers. Buds at the branch tip will make it grow longer. Buds, leaves, and branches are either arranged opposite each other, or alternately along the tree twigs. Draw and identify your tree's leaf arrangement in your nature journal.
Draw and identify the leaf arrangement of five other trees in your nature journal.
What is the color of the tree in its autumn foliage? Sketch it in water colors or crayons, showing the shape of the head and the relative proportions of head and trunk.
Sketch with chalk, pencil, or another medium your tree.
Collect a leaf from at least 5 different trees, add them to your nature journal, and explain how the leaves are different. Hint: look at the shape of the leaf, the edge of the leaf, and the size of the leaf.
Bark is a great tree cover-up. It helps protect trees from things that could damage the wood - like insects, bad weather, or careless people. Trees have thin bark on their twigs, and thicker bark on their trunk. Some old trees have very thick, chunky bark. Other trees have bark that flakes off as it gets older. Different kinds of trees have different looking bark. People can identify some trees by the special appearance of their bark.
You can record your tree's bark by rubbing the tree trunk to make a picture, much like your leaf rubbing in the last activity. Take several pieces of paper and several crayons out to your tree, hold the paper on the trunk, and rub the crayon sideways until the texture comes through. Paste your best bark rubbing in your nature journal.
In your nature journal, draw a Web of Life around your tree. Start by drawing your adopted tree. On one side of the tree, draw all the things a tree needs to live. Connect each of these to the tree with a line. Then on the other side of the tree, draw and connect all the things you can think of that need your tree.
Make a sketch of the tree in your notebook, showing its shape as it stands bare. Does the trunk divide into branches, or does it extend through the center of the tree and the branches come off from its sides? Of what use are the branches to a tree? Is the spray coarse or fine? Does it lift up or droop? Is the bark on the branches like that on the trunk? Is the color of the spray the same as that of the large branches?
Take a twig of your tree in February and look carefully at the buds. What is their color? Are they shiny, rough, sticky, or downy? Are they arranged on the twigs opposite or alternate? Can you see the scar below the buds where the last year's leaf was borne? Place the twig in water and put it in a light, warm place, and see what happens to the buds. As the leaves push out, what happens to the scales which protected the buds?
Describe the bark on your tree in words in your nature journal. Is it smooth or rough? How about bumps or warts? What color is the bark? Are the ridges fine or coarse? Are the furrows between the ridges deep or shallow? Do pieces peel off by themselves? Of what use is the bark to the tree? What are some things that can't hurt your tree because of the bark?
Visit five more trees that are not the same kind of tree as yours. Make bark rubbings of each tree. How is the bark different from the bark of your adopted tree? Paste the bark rubbings in your nature journal.
In your nature journal, write a story, A Day in the Life of My Tree, about all the things that happen or might happen from sunrise to sunset around your tree.
How big is your tree? Take a measuring tape and wrap it around the tree trunk about 4.5 feet from the ground. This is your tree's circumference. Write the measurement in your nature journal. Can you calculate the tree's diameter from this measurement? Divide the circumference by 3.14 and write your answer in your nature journal.
Foresters describe the size of trees by measuring DBH, Diameter at Breast Height. On an adult, that is 4.5 feet off the ground. The second number you wrote is your tree's DBH. Tree trunks get larger over time, but usually this growth occurs too slowly to be able to measure. If your tree is young and growing quickly, however, you might be able to detect a change in your tree's circumference in a year or two! Whether or not you can see a change, your tree is growing wider and taller.
Measure the height of your tree as follows: Choose a bright, sunny morning for this. Take a stick 3 feet long and thrust it in the ground so that three feet will project above the soil. Immediately measure the length of its shadow and the length of the shadow which your tree makes from its base to the shadow of its topmost twigs. Supposing that the shadow from the stick is 4 feet long and the shadow from your tree is 80 feet long, then your example will be: 4ft.:3 ft.:: 80 ft.:(?), which will make the tree 60 feet high. Record the tree's height in your nature journal.
At what date do the young leaves appear upon your tree? What color are they? Look carefully to see how each leaf was folded in the bud. Were all the leaves folded in the same way? Are the young leaves thin, downy, and tender? Do they stand out straight as did the old leaves last autumn, or do they droop? Why? Will they change position and stand out as they grow stronger? Why do the leaves stand out from the twigs in order to get sunshine? What would happen to a tree if it lost all its leaves in spring and summer? Tell all of the things you know which the leaves do for the tree?
Sketch with watercolors or colored pencils your tree.
Are there any blossoms on your tree in the spring? If so, how do they look? Are the blossoms which bear the fruit on different trees from those that bear the pollen, or are these flowers placed separately on the same tree? Or does the same flower which produces the pollen also produce the seed? Do the insects carry the pollen from flower to flower, or does the wind do this for the tree?
Many trees produce nuts and berries that wildlife eat. Some people plant certain trees and shrubs to attract birds, deer, and other animals. Hickory, pine, oak, magnolia, beautyberry, red maple, and holly produce food for wildlife in different seasons of the year all over Florida. Dogwood, sumac, and hawthorn are good wildlife shrubs if you live in northern Florida, and wild coffee and coco-plum are good plants for wildlife in southern Florida. Do you find any fruit or seed upon your tree? If so describe and sketch it, and tell how you think it is scattered and planted.
At your tree look for signs of other living things. Look for other plants, mushrooms, and animals: insects, birds, or mammals. Check the bark for holes and spider webs, the leaves for chewed marks or nibbled tips, and the branches for squirrel or bird nests. The ground around the tree may have holes, or half-eaten nuts and leaves. Finding a sign that the animal was there is just as important as seeing the animal. In your nature journal, record your observations in words or pictures. What did you see on the tree? What did you see near the tree? What time of day may be the best time to find animals at home on your tree? Why do you think these and other animals visit your tree? Do you think the location of your tree affects the number and type of animals that visit it? Would there be more animals if your tree were in the middle of the woods? At the edge of a river?
Go on a leaf characteristics scavenger hunt using the Scavenger Hunt Tree Characteristics worksheet as a guide. Find as many of these characteristics as you can. Record your scavenger hunt results in your nature journal. (4-H Workbooks)
At what date does your tree stand in full leaf? What color is it now? What birds do you find visiting it? What insects? What animals seek its shade? Do the squirrels live in it?
Use the Tree ID Key worksheet to identify printed Tree ID Cards. (4-H Workbooks)
Color the Tree ID cards and add them to your nature journal. (4-H Workbooks)
Take a tree inventory on your block. Identify the different tree types. Use a tree identification guide and what you have already learned about identifying trees. Determine the total number of trees according to species. Record any general information about each tree type that you find interesting. For example, does it have leaves, needles, flowers, fruits, or cones? What does the bark look like? Record the tree inventory in your nature journal.
Draw a map of your block in your nature journal and mark the location of each tree in your inventory.
Look up the meanings of the Latin names of the trees in your inventory. Record your findings in your nature journal.
Examine trees in your neighborhood for any signs of damage or injury. Determine the number of trees with each type of damage and injury. Record in your nature journal information such as how bad the damage is and how you think the tree was damaged.
Sketch with watercolors or colored pencils your tree.