Of Glitter Leaves and Starry Skies

Nothing thrills me more than watching my girls plunge into nature study body and soul. Until last year we lived in a townhouse development where people came undone if so much as a dandelion popped up through the meticulously weed-treated lawn. Since moving into our “Big Woods” at the utter dead end of a dirt road, we scruple not at rolling on the ground with reckless abandon.

For our kindergarten nature study, I simply wanted the girls to come to know the nature in our backyard – stars, trees, birds, flowers – as the best of friends. We started off the school year with a starry night picnic complete with hot chocolate by the campfire. Of course, Half Pint optimistically sees the Little Dipper every time she gazes skyward, and days later I heard the girls reminiscing about the time they saw Jupiter and Marge, but at least I sparked their interest!

When the leaves on the hickories began turning golden, I scoured our Little Library’s shelves for tree books I’ve been gathering over the last few years. My very best find was Meeting Trees by Scott Russel Sanders – a battered and much-taped thrift store gem. Meeting Trees tells a simple story of a boy and his dad taking a walk through the woods so he can meet trees and become friends with them. Exactly what I’m trying to do with my girls! And lo and behold, it pictured just about every tree we wanted to identify in our own woods, from shagbark hickories and tulip poplars to sweetgums and sassafras (which the girls can never say without giggling!)

We also love the Let’s Read and Find Out science series. A Tree is a Plant gives a simple yet thorough overview of the inner workings of a tree, from seeds to roots to leaves, emphasizing humans’ enduring relationship with trees throughout the changing seasons. A Tree for All Seasons also shares a year in the life of a tree, but on an even simpler level just right for engaging Half Pint in our tree study, and we all enjoyed the gorgeous photos. A Tree is Growing and Crinkleroot’s Guide to Knowing the Trees aided our identification efforts. Both books were pretty enough to display on book racks throughout our home during the autumn season.

Of course, no tree study would be complete without us gathering hundreds of leaves to crunch underfoot in the car and crumble all over the living room rug. We pressed seven varieties in our leaf press and then ironed them between sheets of waxed paper, trimming them off with Washi tape. My original idea was to use them as Thanksgiving Day placemats, but they looked so much prettier hanging on the deck window with the sun shining through them. This vantage point lent itself to rousing games of Name That Leaf during breakfast.

When it was time for our deck door sun-catchers to come down, we transferred them to our calendar of firsts so Pioneer Girl could label them. Nature study and copywork in one – score!

Feeling deprived of traditional kindergarten crafts in my own childhood, I just couldn’t keep myself from trying leaf prints with the girls. I admit the result was not quite so artistic as Pinterest led me to envision, but the prints worked well enough for our Thanksgiving tree, where we wrote our thanks individually for each of our ten billion stuffed animals. (My lofty ideals are always humbled with a generous dose of reality around here!)

Then we proceeded to paint craft store leaves with glue and shower them with glitter for window garlands. I love this idea from A Year of Playing Skillfully curriculum, even though my heart still quakes at the remembrance of that clean up!

At last we emerged triumphant from the tumult of our crafting frenzy. Who knew that Mod Podge, that quintessential of all art supplies, would render such beautifully-preserved specimens?

What I love most about our tree study is that even though I have gratefully swept the glitter and leaf crumbs away, our learning is far from over. The girls still race up to me with brown crunchy leaves announcing excitedly, “Hey Mommy, an oak! A white oak!” Their growing awareness and fondness for our tree friends assures me the Glitter Blizzard of 2020 didn’t rage in vain.

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