Through my life of involvement in youth education, as a teacher, a parent, and a program quality assessor, I know that there is no greater goal than to develop activities that hold the children’s attention while combining fun and learning. One suggestion I can make is a year-round activity that combines science, math, and art, and all it takes is a tree. You start by looking around your school/center for a tree that is deciduous (loses its leaves annually). Bring a book with you that will help identify the tree and allow you to share some information about the tree. While you are outside, discuss various characteristics of the designated tree. Bring a camera with you and take a picture of the tree at the peak of each of the four seasons (and while the tree is in bloom if it flowers) so that you can document the changes.
In the autumn, before the leaves change colors and fall from the tree, take the children outside and have them draw a picture of the designated tree. Have the students do this same activity each season and hang the artwork in the classroom. As they finish each new season’s drawing, you can discuss the seasonal changes with the children. At the end of the school year the children will have four paintings of the tree, and an understanding of the science behind those changes.
In addition to these projects, you can use the class tree for other purposes as well. This same tree will give you and the children the opportunity to incorporate nature and science into numerous activities such as tree and leaf identification, parts of a tree, why leaves change color, etc. The class tree also opens up artistic avenues like leaf rubbing, leaf imprints in clay, making a nest of sticks, designing and making mobiles from branches, and bark rubbings. Also, art and science aren’t the only uses for the tree; you can incorporate math projects by measuring the diameter of the tree or counting different leaf colors or different animals that live in the tree.
Having one tree that you can take the children to will provide you with opportunities for instruction and activities in every month of the year. It will give children the opportunity to have hands on experiences with nature, and link those experiences to various activities that enhance the fun and effectiveness of the instruction. As an added bonus, finding an evergreen tree in addition to a deciduous one provides for twice the teaching opportunities, twice the art projects, and twice the fun.