Every year, in the early part of the year, we put up a tree in our classroom. As we learn about the seasons and various other topics in our curriculum, the tree changes accordingly to reflect our studies. We begin the process during our discussion of fall when we talk about the changes in nature. We always take a walk in Central Park, the park down the block from our school, to look for signs of falls. While there, our class picks a tree to observe as it changes through the seasons. After the initial visit, we go back numerous times to collect information about the "KB Tree". We usually record our findings in our science journals.
On our next visit, we take a closer look at our tree. We talk about the shape, height, width of the tree and make a drawing of it. We look at the shape and color of its leaves. When we come back to our classroom we make a tree that has similar characteristics to our tree. We place the tree right at the entrance of our classroom so it's the first thing people see when they enter or walk by our room.
Later in the fall we return to collect some of the fallen leaves, do bark rubbings, and measure the circumference of the trunk. One of the leaves and all our recordings go into our journals.
In the winter, as it is too cold to stay out long enough to draw, we take a picture of the tree and glue it into our journal. The children that go through the park on a regular basis never fail to report their observations back to the group.
At the end of the year we have a farewell ceremony for the summer. We sit around the tree in a circle and sing a few songs. The children usually promise to come by and visit the tree throughout the summer. Then we each give our tree a last hug!
As I said earlier, we make a reproduction of the "KB Tree" that has has a prominent spot in our classroom. I usually draw the trunk guided by their directions. Then they paint it. They draw, cut and color the leaves and other items they wish to add.
Below are some examples of how our tree changes in ways that reflect our curriculum. The tree looks different in some pictures because the photos are not all from the current year and our class has picked a different tree each year.
Fall & Tree of Thanks: We make fall leaves for our tree to show the seasonal change. Before Thanksgiving, we send one leaf home with each child so that the family can write on it what they are thankful for. We also give a leaf to our principal and each teacher that our children work with outside of our classroom (Swim, PE, Art, etc). We share the thoughts on the leaves and then put them back on our tree.
Tree of Lights: We study the winter solstice and learn about the changes in the amount and duration of light during winter. We talk about how people have tried to bring light into their homes for centuries in an effort to remember brighter days. We also learn about some of the Festivals of Light: Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa. We place lights on our tree that we keep up throughout all of winter. Our school is in a brownstone in New York City so it actually gets really dark in our room at winter. The lights add light, warmth and coziness to our room.
Winter tree: In January we study winter. We learn about temperature and thermometers, the phases of water, and of course snow. It inevitably snows during this month so we always have a great time making snowflakes to decorate our room.
: When we study Chinese New Year we learn about all the traditions of this holiday. Dragons are a very important symbol in the Chinese culture so we often do a project around them. The dragons for the tree are pretty big and have several pieces, so the children work in teams of three. Each person picks what they will paint and then we put the dragon together. Since it's a group project we pick a name out of a hat from each group to determine which child will take a dragon home.
Tree of Love
: For Valentine's Day each person makes a heart for someone else in our class. We put all of our names (students and teachers) in a bag. Each child and teacher picks a name and thinks of something that is great about that person. If they have a hard time coming up with something, the other people at the table can help brainstorm. Then they make a picture of their idea and glue it on the heart they pick. The teachers write the words under the picture. We share the hearts and then put them on the tree. When we send them home, each child takes the heart that says something about them not
the one they made.
Spring & Butterflies: Our classroom tree usually reflects the changes of the actual tree in the park that we have been observing, however, during this time of year we tend to "cheat!" We usually do an extensive study of plants in the spring and flowers seem to take over. Therefore, the children often want to add flowers to our tree even though the real tree does not have big red flowers! We also learn about butterflies around this time so they often make it on our tree along with birds, squirrels and bugs!
Earth Day & Tree of Hope: We talk a lot about the importance of nature and its resources for our survival and that of other species. We discuss ways in which we can respect and protect the Earth. We learn about reducing, reusing and recycling. We give the children a round piece of paper with the globe on one side. On the other side they draw and write about a way in which they can each help the Earth. We share and then hang them on our tree of hope.
Shoe Tree: During our study of neighborhood community we often set up a shoe store in our dramatic play. One of the things we have in store is a shoe tree. The children usually don't know what that is and start laughing, envisioning a tree full of shoes! As a fun project we ask them to decorate a shoe to put on our tree in order to make a literal shoe tree!
The "KB Tree" is one of my favorite things in our classroom. Not only do I love the feeling it gives our room, I also like how it changes throughout the year. Parents and guests always comment on it and we get compliments all the time. The children too love to see how it changes and get excited when they walk in the room and see their work on it.
Do you have something or an area in your classroom that changes in some way throughout the year? Please share with us or give us any ideas you might have for our tree!