Autumn is the showy time for many trees, when kids, teachers, and parents talk about and collect their bright leaves. But what about winter?
You can keep the tree conversation going through the colder season by making observations on walks and other outings. Follow your budding naturalist’s lead when you can, but bring a few ideas to jumpstart exploration if his or her attention wanders.
Here are some simple activities you might try:
- Move the focus off of leaves and onto trunks. Try putting your arms around trees (or your hands around saplings). Which are biggest around? Smallest? Tallest? Shortest? Smoothest? Roughest? Are they all the same color? Which have low branches?
- Gather fallen needles or pinecones to bring home and compare to those pictured in a field guide. Or bring your guide out with you. Try rolling the needles in your fingers to identify whether they are flat and soft—“flat, friendly fir”—or round and prickly—“sharp, spiny spruce.”
- Sit under a tree in silence for a minute, and use all your senses to observe what happens. Then draw or write about what you noticed. (It’s best to sit on a sleeping pad or other ground cover if there’s snow.)
- Make bark rubbings using paper and crayons. Use the full length of the crayon’s side, taking the wrapper off. Thick crayons, thin paper, and rough-barked trees are great for this activity.
- Read about trees, in books like Winter Trees by Carole Gerber, in which a young boy identifies seven trees in a snow-covered forest by observing branches, shapes, and bark.
For fall tree activities, see “Autumn Leaves: Simple Science and Activities for Kids.”
For five tips to help children identify trees in northeastern U.S. forests, see “Moose-Spruce and Goose-Foot.”
For a grown-up view on winter tree identification, see “Tree Detective: Identifying ash and maple in winter.”
Photo of a bare-branched maple tree in winter by Jerry and Marcy Monkman.
Great Kids, Great Outdoors is an Appalachian Mountain Club blog, written by Heather Stephenson.