Custom Class: post-landing-hero

Rooted in Wonder: Kindergartners Take on an Exploration of Trees

On a bright fall day, under a canopy of trees at Sunnyside Park, a group of kindergartners turned into a flock of birds.

They had arrived at the park as children do, swinging their backpacks, full of wiggles, and talking to friends. But once in a circle and aware of their surroundings, with the soft grass under their feet, tall trees towering overhead, and a warm breeze fluttering the leaves, they transformed. They quieted, focused, and all took flight, spreading their wings and singing bird songs like a magnificent flock.

“It is the best part of the week for our class,” said kindergarten lead teacher Mary Grace Ellison. “All of the kids love and appreciate the time in the park, and the benefits from it are amazing.”

Each Rowland Hall kindergarten class spends one morning a week at the park as part of outdoor classroom, a project-based learning program developed by the kindergarten team. In outdoor classroom, students spend time both in structured lessons and in free play, and are encouraged at all times to take in their surroundings with all their senses.

“The students are learning from nature, not about nature,” said lead teacher Bethany Stephensen. “It’s just that idea of falling in love with the outdoors so they care about it later. If it happens young, the roots will be there.”

The teachers decided to make trees a focus when they noticed how the children were naturally drawn to them. They want to be near them and touch them, sit beneath them, and climb on them.

A central part of Rowland Hall’s kindergarten outdoor classroom curriculum is the tree study. At the beginning of the year, each student picks a tree friend they will spend time with and study each week. The teachers decided to make trees a focus when they noticed how the children were naturally drawn to them. They want to be near them and touch them, sit beneath them, and climb on them.

Each week, students read to their trees, draw pictures of them in each season, and really get to know them through their powers of observation. For instance, students Anna B. and Jaylen W. excitedly point out that their chosen tree has a butt, or small dimple, that makes it unique and special to them.

“They come to the park and they greet their trees, and when we leave they say goodbye to them. Some of them hug them,” said Bethany. “When they read to their trees they really read to them. They show them the pictures.”

Rowland Hall kindergartners enjoy weekly tree studies.

Left: Kindergartners pose with a tree friend in Sunnyside Park. Right: A class collaborates on a stick structure.


Reading to the trees, a major component of the tree study, not only deepens the students’ bond to nature, but also reinforces literacy and reading comprehension. But this isn’t the only way the trees are used in learning. Students map the park, plotting the locations of their trees and the distances between them, and use geometry to identify the shapes made by their locations and proximity to each other. They learn the scientific names of the various trees and employ scientific methods to identify the parts of their trees and label them on photos and drawings. Trees are also great subjects for math lessons.

“They take yarn and find the circumference of their trees and record it in their nature journals,” said lead teacher Melanie Robbins. “We measure things by pine cones: how many pine cones long is it? Or we use the Unifix cubes. We compare which tree is the biggest and smallest and put them in order.”

Social and emotional learning take place during tree study as well. The trees center conversations about community, belonging, and cooperation. Students talk about the fact that all trees have similarities, but no two trees are the same. They also discuss the roots that may bind the trees together, making them dependent on one another. These conversations, combined with the academic skills the tree study is building, are important for young learners, preparing them not only for higher-level learning but also helping them learn to control their bodies—in fact, studies have shown that learning outside helps students become better at self-regulation and independent learning. It’s something that the teachers often observe during their time at the park.

Beyond academic and social-emotional skills, the tree study is making students stewards of nature by teaching them to appreciate their surroundings. On an ever-changing planet, people like that are needed more than ever.

“Children learn things like the fact they can feel excited and calm at the same time,” said Melanie. “That happened just last week as we were watching a bee on a dandelion. Everyone was just ready to jump out of their skin, but they also wanted to be still because they were watching the bee and not wanting it to leave.”

It’s clear that the kindergarten tree study isn’t just a needed change of scenery for students—it is a transformational experience. Beyond the academic and social-emotional skills it’s building, it is making the students stewards of nature by teaching them to appreciate their surroundings. On an ever-changing planet, people like that are needed more than ever. And it’s a symbiotic relationship. Nature gives back by giving these children opportunities to learn in different ways and to connect to their surroundings. It gives them a sense of self and place not available in any other way.

Learning outside gives them wings and helps them soar.

Academics

Rooted in Wonder: Kindergartners Take on an Exploration of Trees

On a bright fall day, under a canopy of trees at Sunnyside Park, a group of kindergartners turned into a flock of birds.

They had arrived at the park as children do, swinging their backpacks, full of wiggles, and talking to friends. But once in a circle and aware of their surroundings, with the soft grass under their feet, tall trees towering overhead, and a warm breeze fluttering the leaves, they transformed. They quieted, focused, and all took flight, spreading their wings and singing bird songs like a magnificent flock.

“It is the best part of the week for our class,” said kindergarten lead teacher Mary Grace Ellison. “All of the kids love and appreciate the time in the park, and the benefits from it are amazing.”

Each Rowland Hall kindergarten class spends one morning a week at the park as part of outdoor classroom, a project-based learning program developed by the kindergarten team. In outdoor classroom, students spend time both in structured lessons and in free play, and are encouraged at all times to take in their surroundings with all their senses.

“The students are learning from nature, not about nature,” said lead teacher Bethany Stephensen. “It’s just that idea of falling in love with the outdoors so they care about it later. If it happens young, the roots will be there.”

The teachers decided to make trees a focus when they noticed how the children were naturally drawn to them. They want to be near them and touch them, sit beneath them, and climb on them.

A central part of Rowland Hall’s kindergarten outdoor classroom curriculum is the tree study. At the beginning of the year, each student picks a tree friend they will spend time with and study each week. The teachers decided to make trees a focus when they noticed how the children were naturally drawn to them. They want to be near them and touch them, sit beneath them, and climb on them.

Each week, students read to their trees, draw pictures of them in each season, and really get to know them through their powers of observation. For instance, students Anna B. and Jaylen W. excitedly point out that their chosen tree has a butt, or small dimple, that makes it unique and special to them.

“They come to the park and they greet their trees, and when we leave they say goodbye to them. Some of them hug them,” said Bethany. “When they read to their trees they really read to them. They show them the pictures.”

Rowland Hall kindergartners enjoy weekly tree studies.

Left: Kindergartners pose with a tree friend in Sunnyside Park. Right: A class collaborates on a stick structure.


Reading to the trees, a major component of the tree study, not only deepens the students’ bond to nature, but also reinforces literacy and reading comprehension. But this isn’t the only way the trees are used in learning. Students map the park, plotting the locations of their trees and the distances between them, and use geometry to identify the shapes made by their locations and proximity to each other. They learn the scientific names of the various trees and employ scientific methods to identify the parts of their trees and label them on photos and drawings. Trees are also great subjects for math lessons.

“They take yarn and find the circumference of their trees and record it in their nature journals,” said lead teacher Melanie Robbins. “We measure things by pine cones: how many pine cones long is it? Or we use the Unifix cubes. We compare which tree is the biggest and smallest and put them in order.”

Social and emotional learning take place during tree study as well. The trees center conversations about community, belonging, and cooperation. Students talk about the fact that all trees have similarities, but no two trees are the same. They also discuss the roots that may bind the trees together, making them dependent on one another. These conversations, combined with the academic skills the tree study is building, are important for young learners, preparing them not only for higher-level learning but also helping them learn to control their bodies—in fact, studies have shown that learning outside helps students become better at self-regulation and independent learning. It’s something that the teachers often observe during their time at the park.

Beyond academic and social-emotional skills, the tree study is making students stewards of nature by teaching them to appreciate their surroundings. On an ever-changing planet, people like that are needed more than ever.

“Children learn things like the fact they can feel excited and calm at the same time,” said Melanie. “That happened just last week as we were watching a bee on a dandelion. Everyone was just ready to jump out of their skin, but they also wanted to be still because they were watching the bee and not wanting it to leave.”

It’s clear that the kindergarten tree study isn’t just a needed change of scenery for students—it is a transformational experience. Beyond the academic and social-emotional skills it’s building, it is making the students stewards of nature by teaching them to appreciate their surroundings. On an ever-changing planet, people like that are needed more than ever. And it’s a symbiotic relationship. Nature gives back by giving these children opportunities to learn in different ways and to connect to their surroundings. It gives them a sense of self and place not available in any other way.

Learning outside gives them wings and helps them soar.

Academics

Explore Our Most Recent Stories

You Belong at Rowland Hall