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Befriend a Tree

When our family lived on the 10-acre farm I affectionately named Carn Brea, we had beautiful Norway Maples out front. One day, while poking fun at me for my propensity for naming things, my daughter said, "Why don't you just name random trees- like that one right there. Call it Larry or something!" Guess what? The name stuck. And Megan ended up with a slight obsession with trees. Instead of making her point, her naming of Larry proved my case: first, that trees are important, and second, that naming a thing demonstrates its importance.

After that day, Larry the Tree became a real symbol of our home. Grandpas and Aunts referred to the tree by name and asked after Larry's well being from time to time. Our dear friend and nature photographer Brad Reed once made a photo of Larry at sunrise, and framed it as a gift. Larry's portrait still hangs in our home, even though we no longer live at Carn Brea. These days, the children of Wilderplay and I interact with trees as if they are cherished members of our family, because THEY ARE! We've given a large white pine that stands over our favorite woodland classroom the title Grandfather Pine. We say, "Good morning, Grandfather Pine," when we see him. We tell him thank-you when he blocks the snow and wind for us. We've learned to respect his height and age, and several of our little Wilderplayers can correctly identify him as a White Pine based on what Megan has taught them (she is now a conservationist working to detect diseases in trees). Below you'll find suggestions for embracing trees as members of your family (go ahead! no need to stay 6 feet away from any trees!). By showing the young children in your life how much you care about trees, you're laying the foundation for a new generation of environmental stewards.


1. Learn to identify trees as a family. Collect books about trees including pocket tree guides specific to your region. Do you have a special, prominent tree in your front lawn or back yard? Know it's scientific name.

2. Watch to see how your favorite tree behaves in all seasons. Does your tree keep it's green needles all winter? Are the branches bare in the cold months? Are buds swelling this week? Does it leaf out early in the spring or later? Do the leaves behave a certain way in the wind or before it rains? What color do they turn in the fall? Does your tree drop seeds?

3. Make a tree collection. Pick up twigs, needles, leaves, seeds, fluff, pods, or anything else you can find on the ground that fell from a tree above. Use a basket or wooden tray to display your tree treasures.

4. Read books about trees. Our favorites include Our Tree Named Steve by Alan Zweible and Little Tree by Loren Long. Fill a basket with tree books and keep it near a cozy window-side reading area with a great view of the trees outside.

5. Be with trees. If you can go outside and maintain a safe and healthy social distance from others, be sure to do so! Once you are out there, you can get as close to the trees as you want to. Look down and explore the ground at the base of your tree. Look up and observe the canopy above you. Sit and spend time leaning on a tree- do you feel how alive it is? Listen to it whisper in the wind. What did it say?

6. Make tree rubbings of bark and leaves. One way to celebrate your favorite tree is to make art with the textures and patterns that make up it's unique characteristics. Display your art so you can feel that wonderful connection to trees even when you are indoors.

7. Sing a song of trees. One of our favorite books about trees was made into this sweet little song by Emily Arrow. You might remember this simple and comforting song by Mr. Rogers and Yo Yo Ma -sing it with the child you love as you wander in the wood. Or, make up little songs about the trees in your life.

8. Name a tree. Go ahead, you know you want to! Show your child how near and dear that big tree in your yard is to your heart. Now, when you look out the window or come home from a long trip, you can greet your tree by name and feel that deep, lasting connection humans have with nature. See you out there soon, LL


When not working with children and their caregivers, "Lady" Lisa and her family enjoy exploring the woods, lakes, and beaches that surround their northern Michigan home. She holds a masters degree in early childhood studies, a graduate certificate in teaching adults in the early childhood field, and accreditation in wilderness safety and the forest school ethos.


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