Trees, Trees – A Winter Wander
Lesson Plan No. 1 – January
by Jane Valencia
You may distribute this lesson plan freely, but please keep all text on it as is! Thank you!
Below is a Lesson Plan For Late Winter — a time associated with elder wisdom, survival, dreaming and creative imagination. With that awareness, this “plan” is more of a gathering of possibilities. Choose what works for you or use these thoughts as fodder for your own sensibilities as you step out into the winter magic of the Trees!
Please feel free to ask questions or comment below. I also invite you to share your stories of adventuring with the Trees!
Winter is a wonderful time to share nature with children. Snow, frost, and ice allow us to discover the myriad qualities of water, and to muse on why water is shaping in the way that it is, and to glimpse sometimes far more easily the comings and goings of the animals.
Winter is also a fine time to deepen our acquaintance with the Trees.
Trees are powerful beings in our world, often feeling like guardians, or friends (especially if we climb them!), or as the People of the plant realm. In winter when the deciduous trees have shed their leaves we can more clearly see their structure. Now is a good time to explore the “bones” of the trees. As we wander outside we can notice the curve or straightness of the trunk, the branching of the limbs. Do the branches alternate? Do they come out in parallel? Or is there some other pattern you notice — or not?
Young Red Alders. Note the alternate branching, the purple-red color … – photo by Jane ValenciaAnd what about the buds. Can we see where new leaves are just beginning? Small promises in the form of buds? Are there catkins dangling like brown caterpillars?
Let’s explore the bark! Some trees have smooth trunks, some have puzzle pieces of bark, or are rough in other ways. What does the pattern and texture of the bark remind you of? What colors do you notice in the bark?
Under the ground where might the roots spread?
Standing with a tree (even hugging it perhaps!) can you feel or imagine you feel where the energy of the tree is right now?
When we wish to share nature with children, we need to start with our own curiosity and sense of wonder. Notice things first. Awaken memories of your own stories of time with the trees. Did you or do you have a special tree in your life? Did you climb a tree as a child? Ever? Often? Were particular trees special to any of your child’s grandparents, ancestors, or figure in your family’s stories in other ways? For instance, one of my family names, Kiefer, is the German name for the Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), a widespread pine throughout Europe and into Siberia, and ranging into the Arctic Circle via Scandinavia. In general, “Kiefer” can be considered to be German for “pine”. Wow, there’s fodder for my imagination for offering trees as connection for my family. Pretty much any pine tree that appears in European folklore can be considered “die Kiefer”–our tree … and any pine we encounter could be affectionately regarded as a “Kiefer, ” one of our kinfolk.
Meeting Your Children Where They Are
You know the kids around you best. If a story comes to you, or an image, or even a dream you had about a tree, share it. What you tell in the story or say about the dream will shift and emerge according to those who you are with–and subtly meet them where they are. Trust that. Allow the story or image to speak for itself and to work on their imaginations and thoughts in its own way. A story can serve to inspire, and it can serve to give information, but at the heart of any kind of storytelling is connection. We are allowing a feeling and image to come forth through our words. Many times when we tell a story something awakens in the listener from (one might say) the “realm of dreams,” their inner life. We cannot predict or orchestrate how that happens or what it is. Just allow space for it to occur in its own way. Honor that something invisible might be taking place in the field of connections and meaning that is beyond words, and that may be significant or very, very subtle.
Remember, when you tell anyone about something that happened, or about how you felt, etc. that is telling a story. It’s what we humans do. A good story–whether it’s a tale told over minutes, or just a poetic phrase, or a thought voiced, has you, the storygiver, placing yourself in the telling–reliving the experience. Feeling it and living in it as much as you are able to in that moment. Which of course may only seem very slight to you. Remember that intention carries more than we know, and trust that!
So look for an opportunity to share something about a tree, a story or an idea that truly means something to you, or strikes your imagination. And allow that thought to work on its own in your child or with the children you’re with. If you can, return to an aspect of that story or idea at a later time, to remind them of it, and hear a response from them, which may be in words or may be in some gesture of reflection or emotion.
Listen to your children’s stories about trees — or about other things they are experiencing on your adventure or wander. Ask them questions that take them deeper into their experience of the natural world, and of how they feel being in it, what they are noticing or might notice. And also pay attention to when you’ve had enough words, to let them go, and just be together in an experience. Look for times and opportunities to be silent and still in nature, and with the trees.
Be with a tree.
Each tree has its own feel, its own “medicine”. This includes species and individual trees. A young child who spends time outdoors can probably readily feel different “personalities” of trees. To others this might be a strange or ridiculous idea. One end of the spectrum is to just imagine a tree as a person. What kind of person would it be like? Young, old, grouchy, kindly …?
Some children (and older folk) might be captivated by reflecting on the fairies that work with a particular tree.
With a childwho is spiritually-minded (and even with kids who may appear jaded, too “old” for such ideas, or whatever), you can just simply say that many peoples at different times and places have felt that trees have spirits, carry a particular way of being that helps not just our physical bodies (in terms of harvesting for food and medicine) but our hearts, minds, and spirits too. What might those “spirit medicines” be for you?
We can sit or stand with a tree and use our senses to feel and smell the tree, to listen to the branches, to listen to tree music (put your ear to the trunks of different trees–what do you hear?). Totally relax with the tree. What do you feel in your heart? What emotions arise? What thoughts spring forth? With a younger child you might suggest that they listen for a story the tree might tell it. Later you can ask if they’d be willing to share the story the tree told him or her.
With an older child or a teen (if they are open to the idea), you can point out that anything they feel or experience while being with a particular tree is part of a conversation that the tree and your innermost self are having. To capture the experience, a child or teen (or yourself of course!) might paint, just by playing with colors, or journal about the experience. Or write three things that they are thankful for regarding the tree.
You could create fairy houses in and around the trees. Or altars. You could make offerings or gifts to the trees. You could feed the trees (once with a group of children we fed huckleberries into a “mouth” — an opening in a tree trunk — of a tree). You can sing to a tree. You can caretake around the tree, picking up trash, tidying the area, etc..
At the end of your time out with the trees, do take note that you are stepping out of that world, that experience for now, and that you are turning to a different part of your life. Perhaps invite each child to share something from their time outside in whatever way feels right. Perhaps give a playful parting wave to the Trees. Perhaps you collect a bit of bark, a twig, a bud (with mindfulness and thanks to the Tree) and bring it home to put in a little honoring place–a special windowsill, or a special spot on a table.
At another time (at dinner?) you might recall your wander, and open the conversation to the magic of your shared experience. You might be surprised at what things you noticed that weren’t immediately apparent, but which comes forth as you chat about your adventure later.
Remember, in all of this, the intention of sharing nature with others is to do so in a spirit of wonder, and genuine curiosity and openness to experiencing magic yourself. If you’re a teacher, you may be eager to give a lot of information too, but what needs to come first is connection. Compelling, imaginative stories from real life or myth, or even “just” a childhood memory can inspire a child (or any of us) to look at trees (or any aspect of nature) with new eyes, a new willingness to be surprised.
Enjoy the adventure!