Spring arrives late in Calgary, but it arrives FAST.
One day we’re in snow boots and the next day it’s flip flops. (To be fair, Calgarians are busting out flip flops any time it’s above 5°C.)
Because it seems to happen so fast, I’ve promised my son that next year we’ll take a picture of the same tree branch every day for a month to watch the progression from bare branch to buds to leaves, blossoms and beyond!
DK’s The Magic & Mystery of Trees inspired us to pay special attention to the trees in our neighbourhood as they came back to life.
Walking to and from his school bus stop we made up a Tree Treasure Hunt that you can do in your neighbourhood! We focused ours on what happens to trees as the temperature rises and the days get longer, but you could adapt our list to trees in other seasons.
To complete the treasure hunt and activities, you can print out our list (or view it on your phone). If you’re like me and can identify thousands of brand-names but very few trees, take pictures of what you find and then work together at home to figure out the species of trees you found on your hunt using The Magic & Mystery of Trees or other resources. We’ve been experimenting with a tree identification app.
Things to find:
Blossoms tell pollinating insects that it’s time for a visit! Watch for bumblebees buzzing around the blossoms.
This spring we’ve discovered what my daughter calls “baby cocottes!” (Cocotte being French for pinecone.) As much as we love to collect cones on the ground, it’s apparently even more fun to discover them in their infancy, growing right there on the conifer! With so many of last season’s cones under the tree and the baby cones developing on the branches, it’s easy for us to see the beginning and the end of the lifecycle.
Trees are home to creatures big and small. It’s fun to spy a bird’s nest, and we even found the shell of a robin’s egg in our front yard recently. Get up close to a tree though, and there are plenty of other critters to find.
Seeds that take flight
Last fall I introduced the kids to the joys of finding dried “helicopter” seeds from maple trees and tossing them in the air to watch them spin to the ground. Now we are looking at them bright green and still on the branches.
Look closely at the leaves of your favourite trees and spy some of their enemies, such as caterpillars or aphids. (We just learned about how ants “milk” aphids for their honey and defend them from ladybugs, so I’m constantly checking leaves to find actual aphids to show them.) If you can’t find the culprit itself, look for leaves that have been munched instead.
This is a good way to teach kids that we don’t eat just any berries off any tree! My son just loved learning that berries attract animals to help them spread their seeds through their poop.
Ren and … Stumpy
I love looking at the rings in a tree trunk. Whether it’s a full tree stump or just what’s left of a thick branch that’s been pruned, we identify the inner layers of a tree thanks to The Magic & Mystery of Trees.
See if you can find any visible roots at the base of a tree and try to imagine together how far those roots might spread and how deep they go. As much as one-third of a tree is underground!
Things to do:
Bark up the right tree
We’ve started paying attention to the different colours and textures of the bark on various trees on our walking route. As suggested in our book, we’ve also made bark prints by rubbing crayon over a paper pressed against a tree trunk.
Leave with some leaves
Collect a single leaf from a variety of tree species so that you can examine them more closely. Use a magnifying glass to observe the veins that carry water from the trunk to the leaves and talk about how the leaves turn the light of the sun into food.
Leaves help teach photosynthesis, and watering trees helps children understand that trees, like humans, need water to survive. Depending on your climate, let your kids water the trees in your yard!
Plant for the future
I dream of having a backyard of our own one day where we can have a vegetable garden and plant our own trees. Imagine watching a tree grow in your yard as your child goes from toddler to teenager and beyond! (Pass the tissues!)
If you’ve got a budding arborist at home, they’ll love DK Book’s The Magic & Mystery of Trees as much as we do!