Has your child ever gazed at a tree and watched its leaves blow in the breeze
or birds flying in and out of it? What about squirrels running up and down
the trunk? You can help your child learn about trees, and the animals that
use them, by exploring the trees in your backyard or neighborhood, and doing
some leaf and bark rubbings together.
Trees are plants that have characteristics and needs in common with all
living things. They also provide a habitat for other plants and animals,
and some of these animals have physical characteristics adapted for helping
them move in and around the tree.
Collecting and recording data; identifying patterns
and relationships; developing ideas
3-6 year olds
Making Leaf and Bark Rubbings
Take It Further
When you are out and about with your child, draw her attention to trees
you see. Depending on where you live and the time of year, you may spend
a few minutes together enjoying the shade from a tree, looking at some brightly
colored foliage, or collecting some interesting pods and nuts. Encourage
her to notice any small creatures or other animals she sees in or around
What You Need:
- Pad of paper and pencil
- Magnifying glass (optional)
- Crayons or colored pencils for drawing; marker for writing
Choose a couple of trees in your backyard or neighborhood to explore with
your child. Invite her to be an animal detective, and encourage her to look
and listen for insects, birds, squirrels, or other animals that live in
the trees or visit them. Take a pad of paper and pencil with you, and make
sketches or notes of interesting things you see or jot down ideas that come
up. If possible, take a magnifying glass along.
Encourage your child to stand back and notice the size, shape, and color
of a tree from a distance. How can she imitate the shape of the whole tree
by using her body? What about just one of the branches?
As she gets closer to the tree, encourage her to look more closely at its
parts - leaves, fallen twigs, or branches - and any nuts, seeds, or pods
on the tree. Collect some to look at more closely. Encourage her to notice
the colors, shapes, and sizes of the different parts by asking questions
like "What words might you use to describe this?" and "What is special about
Encourage her to look for evidence of insects, caterpillars, or other small
animals on the leaves and tree parts. Then help her look for birds' nests
or squirrels' nests in the tree. Encourage her to listen for birds calling
in the tree. Invite her to think about how these animals use the tree by
asking questions like "Why do you think the squirrel/caterpillar/bird likes
to be in the tree?" Jot down any interesting things she sees that may be
evidence of animal visitors.
If she observes some small creatures or other animals in and around the
tree, encourage her to watch how the animal is moving through the tree.
For example, is it climbing on the trunk using its claws or is it flying
from branch to branch using its wings? Invite her to use her body to imitate
how the animal moves. Ask "What parts of your body do you need to use to
get around in the tree?" If it's a small creature, invite your child to
look at it more closely with the magnifier.
Recording Tree Observations:
, invite your child to draw the tree and
any animals she might have seen moving in or near the tree. Write down her
descriptions of the tree and animals she observed.
What You Need:
- Plain white paper and crayons with paper torn off
- Masking tape (optional)
- Cardboard or clipboard
- Paper bag for collecting leaves
Talking About Trees:
- Take some paper, masking tape (optional), and crayons outside. Look
for several trees with different types of bark and leaves.
- Encourage your child to close her eyes and feel the bark of the trees.
Ask "How does it feel?" and "Which one is the smoothest? the roughest?"
Encourage her to think about what it would feel like to be a small creature
climbing or crawling on the bark. Ask "How would you hold on?" and "Do
you think it would be harder to walk up the trunk or to walk on a branch?
Why do you think so?"
- Use tape to hold a piece of paper on the trunk at your child's eye
level, or hold the paper for her. Encourage her to rub a crayon horizontally
over the surface of the paper on the bark, just hard enough so that
the bark';s texture shows on the paper. Encourage her to do several
trees and compare the rubbings. "How can you tell which rubbing belongs
to which tree?"
- Help your child collect some leaves from different trees. Encourage
her to feel the tops and undersides of the leaves with her eyes closed.
How can she describe the textures? Make leaf rubbings by putting the
leaf on a piece of cardboard or a clipboard, covering it with the paper,
and rubbing the crayon over it. Encourage your child to look closely
at the rubbings and notice details from the leaves. Encourage her to
think about - and show you - what it would be like to be an animal walking,
climbing, crawling, or landing on these different leaves.
- Once she has made several leaf and bark rubbings, play a matching
game with them. Mix them up and see if she can both figure out which
tree each leaf and bark rubbing came from. How can she tell?
Encourage your child to share her
tree explorations, and her leaf and bark rubbings, with family members and
friends. Invite family members to share stories with your child about trees
that were special to them when they were children, or saplings they had
planted that are now full-grown trees.
With your child, do a more extensive exploration of animals that live in
and around trees. Make a list of the animals your child finds, and encourage
her to describe what they are doing and how they are moving through the
trees as you take her dictation. Ask questions that help her think about
how the animals use the trees: “What do you think that creature was doing
in the tree?” and “How do you think the tree helps that creature?”
More Information About Trees:
The Arbor Day Foundation has a site for families with free, downloadable
. The site also invites families to send in photos
of children imitating tree shapes or children’s drawings of trees.
There are many free public parks, arboretums, and tree museums that welcome
family visits and provide education about trees. Go on an adventure to a
local park, and call ahead to see if you can join a guided tour with other
families of young children. Take along a picnic lunch if permitted and eat
it under the trees. Go to a local zoo or animal habitat and spend time with
your child observing animals that live in trees.
Make a book of your child's leaf and bark rubbings. Use Peterson First
Guide to Trees
to help your child identify some of the trees she has
explored; invite her to match the shapes of leaves and other tree parts
you collected with their corresponding pictures in the book. Write down
the tree names on her rubbings and include them in the book, along with
her description of their physical characteristics (color, shape, and/or
The place or environment where a plant or animal
normally lives or grows; the living and nonliving parts of the environment
utilized by an animal for survival
by Dr. Seuss. Random House, 1971.
That Live in Trees (Books for Young Explorers)
by Jane R. McCauley. National Geographic Society, 1986.
First Guide to Trees
by George A. Petrides, illustrated by Olivia Petrides and Janet Wehr.
Houghton Mifflin, 1993 (or 2nd ed., 1998, edited by Roger Tory Peterson).