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Little Tree by Loren Long

“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.” – Kahlil Gibran

In a forest, lives a little tree, who loves its life and its leaves, and would prefer nothing ever change. As the trees and seasons around it change, the little tree is fearful of the unknown and holds onto its leaves. The animals around the tree encourage and support it until it is able to let go of its leaves and experience growth.

Get to Know a Tree

Let’s take a chance to grow awareness of, a connection to and gratitude for the amazing trees we see everyday. As you go on walks, hikes, or even drives through the neighborhood, notice the trees you pass. Chat about their size, shape, colors or how they move – anything you notice about them.

Now let’s get to know one of them! (This can be done over and over with many different trees!)

  1. Choose a tree in your yard, neighborhood, park or other greenspace. Use multiple senses to explore your tree. Get up close and feel the bark with your hands or softly against your face, sniff the tree, wonder if it makes any sound and listen. Measure the tree using string, your hands or arms.

  2. Does anything interact with your tree? How does a stick, rock, or leaf sound rubbed against the bark? Are there any animals or tiny friends living in or around your tree?

  3. Now that you’ve spent time getting to know your tree, give it a name. Naming their tree is a wonderful way for kids to connect with this particular tree. Wonder together what they think the tree’s name is. Think about the qualities it shares with us such as color, size, sounds, and even its scientific name and wonder if any of those qualities can inspire a name.

  4. Explore with your tree! Using paper and crayons, make rubbings of the tree’s bark and leaves. Look at the ground around the tree and wonder which nature treasures fell from its branches.

  5. Make a design for your tree. Choosing somewhere near the tree, use nature treasures to make a design your tree can ‘see’ and enjoy.

  6. Make different faces for your tree based on how you think it feels each day (more information on this activity below.)

For long term observation, try these steps with the same tree in every season and take a picture of your tree each time to look back on. For explorers interested in writing, let them write on the back of the photo or in a journal what they notice about their tree friend in each season.

What are we learning?

🔹Gratitude → One way to show someone or something that you feel thankful for them is to share all the things that make it special. Taking the time to name special things about our tree helps foster gratitude. Not only does practicing gratitude make us more thankful, but it has lasting positive effects that can help us weather difficult moments down the road.

🔹Empathy → Taking time to appreciate the trees around us helps kids develop empathy for other living things and become more prepared to protect both these amazing plants and the planet that supports us all.

🔹STEM Concepts → observing trees with all of our senses naturally develops curiosity and a base in a wide range of STEM concepts

Faces for Trees

In our story today, the Little Tree struggles with feelings of fear of the unknown and this makes it freeze and stop growing. One of the best ways we can begin to help children process big emotions is to name those emotions. In this activity, we can support our kids’ knowledge of emotions by discussing with them the six basic emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust) and exploring facial expressions for each one.

This activity begins with MUD! Find a spot in your greenspace with dirt you can loosen up and bring in some water to add. Make mud together and chat while you work. For tree faces, the mud needs to be wet enough to stick together, but dry enough to hold in your hand and form. Experiment with it, this part can be incredibly fun! (and if your explorer isn’t in a space for mud play, you can always do this activity with Forest Putty. Shorter on time today? Make faces by wrapping tape around the tree, sticky side out.)

  1. Ask your explorers, “What if trees had faces? What would they look like? Would they look like people faces or animal faces or something totally different? Do you think we could make faces for trees?

  2. Work together to mold the mud (or forest putty) into balls or patties and then plop them onto a tree. If it’s not wanting to stick to the tree, putting the mud on the roots is another great way to go!

  3. Now that there is a base to work with, ask kids what we could use to make the rest of the face. Wonder what nature treasures could be eyes, noses and mouths, etc. Provide your explorer with a container (a bucket, small bowl, bag or recycled container) to gather nature treasures in.

  4. Once treasures are gathered, come back to your tree and wonder together “How does our tree feel today?” Once decided, make faces like that emotion with your explorer (if able, provide a mirror so they can see the expressions on their own face.)

  5. Now it’s time to make the face! Guide or work beside your explorer to make faces for your tree. Add nature treasures for eyes and other parts of the face. Maybe your tree has one feeling today, or maybe its feelings change as you work together.

What are we learning?

🔹Emotional Empathy → This type of empathy is the ability to understands one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. Talking together and showing examples of the six basic emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust) is a great way to give kids words and pictures on the outside for what they feel inside.

🔹Creativity → Kids develop flexible thinking, a key component of creativity, as they transform mud and nature treasures into faces. Interacting with water and mud (or forest putty) is wonderfully stimulating to the senses of touch, sight, sound and smell and we know that when our senses are engaged, so are our brains!

🔹Universal Behavioral Schema → While gathering treasures, blending water and dirt to make mud and sticking treasures into mud, forest putty or tape, kids activate various behavioral schema (transporting, transforming and connecting.)

I’d love to hear which ideas sparked play and joy with your explorers or if you have any other connections for play! Comment below or tag me in your play on Instagram @magnoliaoutoor.


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