I am bad at trees. Really bad. Like “acorn = oak, and that’s about all I know” bad. What can I say, I grew up in the desert! But I am committed to getting better because one of the benefits of homeschooling is that teacher gets to learn alongside her students. Charlotte Mason suggested children should study trees throughout the season, and she suggested starting in winter when the trees are bare. Now, for people more northerly, you’ve had bare trees for awhile. In Texas, however…
Most of our trees did surrender their leaves by the end of December, so we’re starting in January, which seems appropriate.
The Study of Trees: Children should be made early intimate with trees, too; should pick out half a dozen trees, oak, elm, ash, beech, in their winter nakedness, and take these to be their year-long friends. In the winter, they will observe the light tresses of the birch, the knotted arms of the oak, the sturdy grown of the sycamore. They may wait to learn the names of the trees until the leaves come. By-an-by, as the spring advances, behold a general stiffening and look of life in the still bare branches; oak and elm, beech and birch, each has its own way of folding and packing its leaflets; observe the ‘ruby budded lime and the ash, with its pretty stag’s foot of a bud, not green but black– “More black than ash-buds in the front of March.” Charlotte Mason Original Homeschooling Series Volume 1
Because developers tend to stick to one type of tree, it may be hard to get to the six Miss Mason recommends if you stick to your neighborhood. In our yard, we have two (possibly three?) types of oaks, holly, and crepe myrtle trees. We also have Chinese Pistache — I know this because we planted them last year and the tag on the trunk told me. Our neighbors also have maple trees we can easily observe. I also want the children to pick a tree to follow at our local nature preserve that we (try to) go to once a month and the Dallas Arboretum.
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How do you study the trees? The Handbook of Nature Studies blog (bookmark that site!) has great tips, season by season.
Simple Suggestions for Winter Tree Study:
1. Pick a tree in your yard or on your street and view its branch patterns and silhouette.
2. Find a tree that has lost its leaves and sketch its shape in your nature journal. This activity can be done from a window if your weather is too cold or snowy.
3. Collect some seeds from trees that may still be left over from last season. Look for sweet gum, locust, yellow poplar, ash, mimosa, or sycamore.
4. Collect twigs from different trees and compare them.
This is also where our nature journal comes in and will serve as a sort of scrap book for the trees development. Here’s a three part tutorial on drawing trees and another tutorial for sketching and recording trees (pdf).
We also have a couple of resources to help us identify trees. I picked up a hardback version of this great book at a library sale for a buck. I know! A must have for homeschoolers — particularly Charlotte Masony homeschoolers is The Handbook of Nature Studies (for which the above-mentioned blog is named and dedicated.) You can find that online, too, if you don’t want to spend cashy money. I want to get a field guide specific to Texas that’s smaller. I have the birds and wildflower guides by this publisher and have found it very handy for a day at the nature preserve.
So go pick your tree and get to observing!
(I have three pop culture references in this post. Accolades and imaginary cookies to the first person to find them.)