I've stared at the trees in front of our cabin in Yosemite my entire life; it wasn’t until this weekend that the kids and I finally set out to identify them.
It may not sound like that exciting of a task, but we turned it into a game by becoming tree detectives – something especially exciting for a 3.5 and soon-to-be 7-year-old.
With our guidebook in hand (we used The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada), we began searching for clues to tell us what types of trees stood around us.
The first step was to look closely at the leaves of each of the trees. Did each have needles or flat leaves?
Once we decided on the type of leaves we were looking at, we could confirm our initial guess on the type of tree with other clues. In one case, The Big Explorer sniffed the bark of a pine tree to confirm it was a Ponderosa instead of a Jeffrey.
The Little Explorer looked closely at the shape of the bark, too. We also examined acorns to see if the caps were flat, warty or hairy.
By putting all of our tree “clues” together, we determined what’s living in our yard: ponderosa pines, mountain alders, California black oaks and incense-cedars.
Next time we visit, we’re planning on drawing a map of the yard to indicate where each type of tree now stands.
- Use a location-specific guide to the trees in your area. These usually include a step-by-step process for identifying leaves, bark, berries and flowers. With a location-specific book, your choices are fewer – which I found immensely helpful.
- Keep it fun for the little ones. The Little Explorer tagged along because he loves touching bark, acorns and leaves. We designated him as the clue gatherer, keeping him excited, involved and connected.
- Go on a spider hunt.
- Enjoy a cup of hot cocoa outside before school.
- Find a favorite spot for some cloud watching.
- Skip rocks at a nearby creek, river, stream, pond, lake or ocean.
- Visit a U-pick pumpkin patch.