Take a Nature Walk
To learn more about trees, bring a few friends (including an adult) on an outdoor adventure. Pick a location that has many different kinds of plants and trees. A nearby park is a great choice. If you like, you can also visit a national park, or forest. If you choose this option, however, you should make sure that it is okay to pick up leaves and pine needles that you find.
What You Need:
- Magnifying glass
- Sketchbook or notebook with unlined pages
- Colored pencils or crayons
- Tape measure
- Tree Identification Guide
- Camera, if you want to take pictures
What You Do:
- As you begin your walk, look at the trees that are around you. Are they mostly deciduous or evergreen? (Deciduous trees usually have flat leaves and evergreens have pointy needles.) How many different kinds of trees do you see?
- When you see a tree that you would like to know the name of, get out your guide book. Ask yourself these questions to help figure out what kind of tree it is:
- Is it deciduous or evergreen? Look closely at the bark, and examine the leaves or needles. Does the tree have cones on it?
- Look for a tree that looks similar in the guide book. Does the tree you see in the book grow in this area? If not, try again.
- If you aren't able to find the tree in your guide book, you can do more research at home. Take a picture, and if it is permitted to do so, take a leaf or two from the tree to bring home with you.
- Draw a picture of the leaf or the tree.
- Draw details with colored pencils, such as the shade of green leaves or needles, and whether the bark is rough or smooth. You can also use the camera to take close-up pictures of the tree.
- If you want to figure out how tall a tree is, you can use the shadow of a tree, compared to the shadow of something that you know the height of. However, this will only work in a sunny area that is not crowded with trees and plants.
- Measure the tree's shadow (in inches), and then have someone measure your shadow, while you are standing straight in a sunny area. If you don't know your height, have them measure that as well. All measurements should be in inches.
- To figure out how tall the tree is, use the calculator to divide your height by the length of your shadow. The number you get should be pretty small. Multiply this number by the length of the tree's shadow to get a much bigger number.
- Have an adult help you round the number up to the nearest whole number, and that is a good guess at how tall the tree is in inches. To find out how many feet this is, divide it by 12 using the calculator.
- How old do you think the trees you see are? Make a guess about one tree, and write it down.
- Have an adult measure around the tree you guessed the age of, using the measuring tape. Make sure that your helper measures around the trunk at five feet above the ground. Write down the measurement.
- On average, trees grow one inch in circumference (the distance around) each year. If your tree was 20 inches around, it would be about 20 years old.
- How did your guess compare to what age you were able to measure?
- As your walk comes to an end, think about the different trees you saw. Can you remember the names of the trees? What was your favorite part of the nature walk?
Living in a Tree
In this project, you can find out more about a particular kind of tree and discover all the insects that live there. You will need someone to help you.
What You Need:
- White bed sheet
- Magnifying glass
- Insect guide (You can use this online guide, or check at your local public library)
What You Do:
- Find a tree branch that is easy to reach. With your helper, spread the sheet out, then hold it as close to the branch as you can.
- Have your helper firmly shake the branch for about 30 seconds, and then bring the sheet slowly down to the ground.
- Begin examining what's on the sheet with the magnifying glass. You will most likely see spiders, beetles, and ants. You might also see young insects or caterpillars.
- Try to identify what was in the tree by using the insect guide. Use the magnifying glass to see details about each bug.
- When you're finished, gently shake out the sheet. If you like, you can do the same thing with a different kind of tree. What kind of insects do you think would live in a pine tree? How about an oak, or maple tree?
- Do you see any animals near the tree? Many different animals make their homes in trees. Check the trees around you to see if you can spot a bird's nest. Squirrels and rabbits will often live in hollow tree trunks.
Animals and insects use every layer of a wood or forest to make their home in. Birds live at the very top, building their nests in branches. Squirrels live inside tree trunks, and rabbits live at the base of the tree. A tree provides a dry and safe shelter for these different animals. Insects may live in the ground under a tree, or inside the bark. Insects like living by trees because they eat leaves and sometimes even bark. As you learned in this project, different trees have different kinds of insects and animals that want to make their home there.
To learn more about deserts and cacti, check out this Teaching Tip.