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Befriend a Tree

Age: 0 to 8+ Time: Under 1 hour
Materials: trees, time together
Skills: Curiosity, Gross Motor, Sensory, Empathy

As humans, we are undeniably connected to trees. These massive plants inspire us, ground us and have so very much to teach us. The practice of making true friends of the trees in your environment can take many forms. Like a tree, it can start small and grow over the seasons and the years—right alongside your children. Read more about how amazing trees really are and how taking time to know them well benefits your children and you. And, check below for ideas about how to start and nurture your family's friendships with trees—natures best teachers.

The Guide

  1. Just notice: As you walk, hike or even just move from building to car to building, notice and remark on the trees. Talk about their size, color, movement—anything you notice about them. This simple practice will prompt you and your kids to notice trees more and more, and will infuse the day with positivity in a surprisingly powerful way.
  2. Befriend a Tree: Pick a special tree and get to know your tree using multiple senses.
    1. Get up close and feel its bark with your hands and your cheeks. Grab hold of a leaf or two. Are hey soft or rough? What shape are they?
    2. Listen to its leaves rustle and hear what happens when you run a stick against the grain of its bark.
    3. Sniff it's bark, leaves, flowers or fruits.
  3. Name your Tree: Give the tree a name based on its special features and what you love most about it. One of our favorites is an old Sycamore we call the "Lumpy Bumpy Tree" for it's many burls.
  4. Measure it: Measure its girth by deciding how many of you it takes to hug your tree, or find out how much rope it takes to encircle its trunk. Wonder about how tall it is, even if it's too big to measure.
  5. Know it over time: Visit the tree throughout the year and point out what’s different about it and what’s the same. Take a photo of your kids in or under your tree each season. It's a lovely way to mark how each change over time. Make an album or display of the photos to share and reflect on together.
  6. Give your tree a face: Use mud and nature objects to give your tree a face (or several). Here's how.
  7. Do some research: Get to know the scientific name for the tree and learn something special about it. Download a free app like LeafSnap or Virginia Tech Tree ID to help you easily identify trees by their leaves, fruits and other features.

Why is this activity great for kids?

Humans are naturally drawn to trees, and trees are truly amazing living things. Once you learn a bit more about all that trees can teach us, it's no wonder that they play such a prominent role in the stories and ceremonies of all cultures. For centuries, they have also played a prominent role in the playful learning and exploration that has been a part of childhood. Trees offer ways to climb and build motor skills, persistence, and self reliance. They are often a key part of the setting for our greatest feats of imagination. Simply observing trees with all of our senses naturally develops curiosity and a base in a wide range of STEM concepts. Finally, once they spend real, quality time with trees, they stand the chance to be more grounded and empathetic as people and certainly more prepared to protect both these amazing plants and the planet that supports us all.

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Do It Yourself

We think all families should be learning outside. Try this activity with your child and begin to see the power in outdoor, play-based learning. Have fun!

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