Have the leaves come off the trees in your area yet? If so, it’s a great time to take your children out and try to put the leaves back on the trees. I don’t mean literally, (although you can try that ☺), I mean find leaves on the ground and try to figure out which tree they came from. All you need is a good tree identification guide that shows both leaf shape and bark patterns. First identify the leaf by it's shape and then find the tree by it's bark pattern.
You might start with some trees you know just to see how it works. Remember that leaves blow around. Look for nuts and seeds to match with the trees that produced them, as well. Children really enjoy this if you treat it like a game.
During a quiet moment, have your children take a good look at the trees. Once the trees have lost their leaves, other aspects of their structure are revealed. The texture of the bark, the shape of the branches, even the leaf scars on the twigs. Compare different trees. Close your eyes and feel the bark. Listen. Smell the wood. Do trees smell differently?
You can also take some paper and crayons along and let your child make a few bark rubbings. Place the paper on the trunk of a tree and rub the crayon over the surface. The bumps and grooves in the bark will be revealed. Hold the paper as firmly as possible for the best results. You can also trace the outline of dried leaves from the same tree.
If you don’t have one, here are some examples of tree identification guides. Have fun!
The first two are child-friendly paperbacks that are easy to carry along on a walk.
Trees, Leaves & Bark (Take-Along Guide) (Paperback) by Diane Burns
Winter Tree Finder by May T. Watts and Tom Watts
Winter Botany by William Trelease. A cool book on a cool topic!
National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees--E: Eastern Region
Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification, Revised and Updated by C. Frank Brockman. Rebecca Marrilees (Illustrator)
A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs: Northeastern and north-central United States and southeastern and south-central Canada (Peterson Field Guides (R)) by George A. Petrides (Illustrator), Roger Tory Peterson (Illustrator, Series Editor)
A Field Guide to Western Trees (Peterson Field Guides: 44) by George A. Petrides, Olivia Petrides (Illustrator), Roger Tory Peterson (Series Editor)