Cover for a post about Learning to Identify Trees with Your Homeschoolers showing some trees and the text "Tree Nature Study for Beginners".

Learn to Identify Trees with Your Homeschoolers

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 able to help them identify trees and other plants, recognize animal tracks, know 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!

Pinnable cover for Tree Nature Study for Beginners

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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 to identify trees, too.  Not just children!

Sale
Trees, Leaves & Bark (Take Along Guides)
  • Burns, Diane (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 48 Pages - 12/01/1995 (Publication Date) - Cooper Square Publishing Llc (Publisher)

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 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 to Identify Trees

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.

Bark

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?

Leaves

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.

variety of fall leaves in a pile

Seeds

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?

Pinecones and other seeds on wet deck

 

You can make all of these notes on our Tree Notebooking Pages.  Download here (no email required).

Two black and white printable notebooking pages with boxes to write and draw about leaves, bark, seeds, and more.

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!

Learn More

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 those 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.

Product cover for Tree Sorting Mats showing three sorting mats and corresponding cards.

Have any tips or stories about identifying trees in your homeschool?  Share with us below!

Also, check out:

Cover for Blog Post 11 Ways to Study Leaves