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We looked at different examples of works of art that were inspired by
trees, both figurative and non-figurative, looking at shapes, color,
design, patterns, how you could tell time of date, weather, etc. from
the color used. Then I shared the comment about trees speaking to
each other and asked them if the trees we were looking at could
speak, what would they say?
We had some interesting comments that
they shared about what the works of art might say to them and then
went outside. I asked them to pick their favorite tree and in unison
they said, "The tree with the eye - the tree with the eye" - so we
went to find the tree with the eye and looked at its shape, its form,
its limbs. We compared how the tree was similar to us, different from
us, who it was home to, what the "eye" saw during the day, what the
tree might say it its neighbors, how it felt. It happened to be
extraordinarily hot that day, so we talked about how the tree wanted
it to rain.
Then I had everyone pick one of the three trees in the area and sit
underneath it, with their backs touching the bark with their eyes closed.
They sat listening to what the tree had to say to them for several minutes,
not speaking, keeping their eyes closed and not speaking the entire
Then we went back into the classroom, shared the results (My tree
said it was hot - My tree said thankyou for visiting me - My tree said
I like watching you play at recess - My tree said I wish you were a bird."
etc. ) For kids who didn't hear anything, I told them to make
something up and then we as a group made up more things the trees
could have said. After this discussion and a painting demonstration,
I gave them palettes of primaries, white and black and mixing trays to paint what the tree said and how it felt.
Some painted the heat, some painted the imagined rain in a rainbow
palette, some painted shapes, some painted the tree with them sitting
underneath - each one is completely different and unique.
The results are truely fabulous, with each one its own personal
As a follow up for the next class session, we went outside, did
texture rubbings of leaves and bark, and other things in nature
around our trees. Back in the classroom we used our hands instead
of scissors to tear out the shape of a tree, its arms and limbs,
glued it onto a background color and then "cut" out leaves from the
texture rubbings with our hands to add to the trunk. I gave them
watercolor crayons and watercolor to draw with on top of their
design. I then demonstrated how with water on a brush, the colors
would blend and turn into watercolor. Some kids went back outside
and got sticks to glue into their composition as part of the tree itself.
Adding the watercolor toned down the white of the paper leaves
without losing the quality of the texture rubbings. These trees are
equally wonderful and unique.
Thanks for the inspiration.
I like your challenge of "not hitting the kids over the head....."
Here is an idea for a project playing off the 1000 Oaks - Like kids, there
is an incredible diversity out there in nature that may be paired with
I remember a great project a teacher did after a visit I'd made - we played
with images of baseball trading cards and kids, instead of sports figures,
chose their own tree to more or less adopt, then created beautiful cards of
their chosen tree, no two alike. On one side, they made images of trees,
their seeds, leaves, or maps of distribution and other natural history
imagery. On the backside, they did research to come up with facts about the
trees, where they grow best - that kind of thing. The finished product is a
Beyond that, though, would be a great step into planting a truly diverse
forest for the future if these kids found a way to each plant one or more
of their own tree. A far more ambitious way to create a "natural garden,"
this could be done in a way to mimic the ecosystem --- say, have kids
choose the plants needed to make up all the puzzle pieces of an Arizona
forest. If an entire school were involved in this kind of project, a
planting of 500 species could be quite amazing, quite helpful. And, at the
same time, learning how to help the diversity in nature is not an easy task
for us - the real world is so messy, so disordered. (PS give me your
mailing address and I'll send samples of the cards if you like.)