Trees are a common theme in children’s representational drawings. Many children seem to have a favorite tree or a tree that is significant in their lives. The task of coming to know a tree by recreating it is a way to begin forming a relationship with the natural world and to appreciate the diversity within it.

ginko tree
When asked to draw a favorite tree, Felix, age 6, drew the Gingko tree that stands outside the school. After some research, we discovered that the gingko tree is the only tree that has remained unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs (220 million years ago).

Learning Objectives:
When students create trees they develop and practice

  • Awareness of the beauty and complexity of structures in nature
  • An understanding of branching structures (alternating, parallel, regular, irregular)
  • An awareness of proportion and the relationship s between tree parts (parts to whole)
  • Inventive ways of using the line printing tools
  • Inventive ways of expanding their tree schema, or way of representing trees.

Observing Trees

Trees have characteristic branching patterns which become clear when we observe their silhouettes. Deciduous trees are easiest to study in the fall, after they have lost their leaves.

Pine Tree

elm tree
Elm Tree

palm tree
Palm Tree

Following the line structure of a particular tree is a way to observe and to recreate its distinctive way of branching. Pose questions and pick up on interesting details to help students focus their observations:

  • Notice where the branches attach to the tree trunk.
  • Notice that branches become thinner and shorter as they move away from the tree trunk.
  • Are the branches horizontal, vertical or diagonal?
  • Are the branches straight or curved?


Get Started: Branching Strategies

Introduce the straight line tools and review printing guidelines.
Ask, If you were going to make this tree using line printing, how would you do it? Where would you begin? Here are a few strategies to think about and demonstrate as children make suggestions:

branching maple
Adding on
Print the vertical lines of the trunk. Add the branches.

branching oak
Leave Spaces:
Print the vertical lines of the trunk, but leave spaces for the branches.

more branching
The “V” method:
Print the beginning vertical lines of the trunk. Place a “V” where you want the trunk to branch.

The above strategies come from observing groups of first and second graders using line printing to plan and print a mural of the forest. Encourage children to try out more than one strategy to see what works best for them. Support students who figure out alternative  ways to create branching structures.


Recreating Tree Structures

Display pictures or photocopies of trees which show distinct branching structures.  Have students focus on one particular tree as a way to begin. Review branching techniques.

branching trees
They’re part of the needles. Thea, age 7

*In order to encourage close observation and experimentation, keep paint off the table for a few minutes to allow children time to practice with the line tools (no ink) and to test out their ideas. As you observe children working out their beginning strategies for the trunk and a branch or two,  place trays of paint on the table.

Children’s Inventions

When students try to recreate the structure of a particular tree, they often also take on the challenge of how to represent other tree parts such as the crown, the needles, leaves, cones, flowers, and textures of the trunk. They need to come up with a way to do this.

weeping willow    tree drawing    pine tree

Share children’s unique interpretations. How did they create:

  • the drooping structure of the weeping willow?
  • the curved branches ?
  • the texture of the tree trunk?


Forest Mural

After experimenting individually, small groups of first graders involved in a study of the forest, work together on a large Winter mural depicting  the variety of tree structures.

working on a mural
They have the opportunity to combine ideas from several different projects and to benefit from each others work. Some children elect to work together to recreate a tree.

tree mural


Related Project: Drawing

For children who finish early, drawing is a logical follow-up to a tree-printing activity. Suggest that students draw a favorite tree, or a more detailed drawing of a particular tree that they have studied.

tree print by Paul
Paul, age 8

Amie's favorite tree
My Favorite Tree by Amie, age 7

Drawing from a print works well too.

Leaf Rubbings

layout of leaves

1.Press collected leaves under heavy books, then lay them veined side up on a table.

feel with closed eyes

2. Tape a paper over the leaves. Invite children to go on a treasure hunt with you. Feel with eyes closed. Keep rubbing materials in reserve.

leaf rubbing

3.Use large unwrapped crayons to rub. Stand up and use the weight of your body so that the colors are more vibrant

another leaf rubbing

4. Try to rub the entire image of each leaf. Continue rubbing with different colors so that the colors become deep and rich.

pull up tape

5. When done, pull up the tape.

match the leaves

6. Try to match leaf shapes.

After rubbing a variety of leaves, try to identify the branching structure of the veins. Are they symmetrical? alternating? radiating? Other?