As a homeschool parent, I have long wished that I could do a better job of guiding my children when we are on nature walks. I dream of being a wealth of knowledge about all the living things around us, naming trees and other plants, identifying animal tracks, knowing if mushrooms are harmful or not…like some nature ninja! But, I feel really far from this goal!
So, I decided this coming year I was going to at least learn to identify 10 different trees. And to make sure this would happen, I needed a plan. So here is my simple plan for learning to identify trees in case you want to put it into action, too. I am sure it can be applied to other areas of nature study as well!
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Tree Nature Study Field Guide
First, you need a good field guide. Many nature guides have so many species and such long descriptions that I quickly become overwhelmed. That’s why I love the Take-Along Guide set of books for children. Their tree guide has less than 20 species and very simple, but detailed pictures and descriptions of the leaves, bark and seeds for each tree. I think it is perfect for beginning adults, too. Not just children!
Go For a Nature Walk
A nature walk does not need to be anything complicated. You could just walk through your yard if it has trees. Or down your street. Or go to the local park. Once you have learned to identify the trees around you, then you could go on a longer hike somewhere with a variety of trees and practicing identifying the trees you know. And maybe add a few more to your repertoire!
Observe the Details
I have realized along the way that I have not naturally become skilled at recognizing and naming a variety of plants because I focus more on the big picture when hiking…how beautiful the whole landscape is. And how good a hike makes me FEEL.
So now, I have been consciously taking the time to observe the small details of what is around me, which is the key to learning to identify trees (or anything else)! You may want to take pictures and make notes while you do this.
Look closely at the bark of the tree you want to identify. What color is it? Or is it multiple colors? How does it feel? Is it smooth or rough? Does it have ridges? Anything else noteworthy?
Now on to the leaves. First, does the tree have leaves or needles? What color are they? How are they shaped? What do the edges look like? Rounded or toothed? How large are they? Do they alternate going up the stem or sit across from each other? If it is fall, what color have the leaves turned? I really never realized how different plants are from one another until I started asking myself these questions.
This is where trees can really show off their differences! Are the seeds carried in pods that look like balls of cotton, pine cones, helicopters, or nuts? Or are they those annoying prickly golf ball-sized seeds that you step on? Or are they inside of fruit?
You can make all of these notes on our Tree Notebooking Pages. Download here (no email required).
Once you make some good observations about the bark, leaves, and seeds then consult your field guide. You should be able to identify your tree!
Sometimes the challenge is remembering the name of a tree once you have identified it! I suggest doing some research and learning more about the tree to help make more connections to it in your brain. What areas of the world does the tree grow in? What kind of climate or habitat does it like? Is it used for anything special? Is there anything interesting historically about the type of tree?
Looking for other trees of the same type and showing your children how to identify the tree will also cement the name and identifying characteristics of the tree in your head!
Test Your Knowledge
While a great way to see what you have learned is to go out in nature and identify trees, sometimes a game is exactly what you need! These sorting mats allow your children to match various parts of the tree to 10 different trees common in North America. They can play this over and over again.
Have any tips or stories about identifying trees in your homeschool? Share with us below!
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