Trees are a common theme in children’s representational drawings. Many children, as well as adults, 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. It is easiest to study trees, especially deciduous trees, in the spring just before they go into bloom, or in fall, after they have lost their leaves.
When students create the branching pattern of a particular tree they develop and practice
- awareness of the beauty and complexity of structures in nature
- an understanding of branching patterns – 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.
- Large line tool to begin – one per student
- Small line tools to add later – one per student
- Paper 12 X 18” (30 X 46 cm) or larger
- Mural paper
- 1 color of tempera paint
- Trays for holding paint
- Pictures of trees that clearly show their branching structure
- Cover tables first if desired
- Practice paper and large line tool at each place
- Tree silhouette photos – one per student if possible
- Trays with paint in reserve
Take a minute to think about how trees are helpful to us and to the environment. (They change carbon dioxide into oxygen, provide shade, give us nuts and fruits, are used for building and heat…) Observing and creating tree branching structures is a way to study and get to know more about trees and about different ways of branching…
Let’s observe the structure of a few well known trees. Trees have characteristic branching patterns which become clear when we observe their silhouettes. We can easily pick out the pine, elm and palm trees below. Following the line structure of a particular tree is a way to observe and to recreate its distinctive way of branching.
Can you tell me how you know which tree is which? What are the differences between these three tree structures? Here are some questions to consider.
- Where does the trunk of the tree begin to branch?
- How do the branches attach to the trunk of the tree?
- Do the branches go in a horizontal, vertical,or diagonal direction?
- Are the branches themselves straight, curved or angular?
- Notice that the branches become thinner and shorter as they move away from the trunk of the tree.
Stand up, pretend that you are one of the trees, but don’t tell us which one! Hold your arms out and pretend they are branches. We can try guessing which tree you are.
Bring branches from a few different trees that illustrate different kinds of branching patterns into the classroom to study.
Introduce the large line printing tool and discuss strategies for creating branching structures.
Point to one of the tree photos and ask, if you were going to print this tree, how would you do it? Where would you begin? Share the following children’s strategies.
Print the trunk of the tree. Add the branches.
Print the lines of the trunk leaving spaces for the branches.
The “V” method:
Print the beginning vertical lines of the trunk starting from the bottom. Place a “V” where you want the trunk to branch
The above strategies came 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
Be sure to review the printing process and the guidelines.
- Find a tree to study – Use a photograph, a tree branch or tree outside that you can easily observe.
- Observe its branching structure. Use your arms to try out the different branches within your tree
- Practice printing with your line tool – no paint
- Print from the trunk upward
- Practice several branches
- Try more than one approach to creating branches
- Print your tree structure.
- Try printing a tree with a different branching structure
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.
After printing individual trees, small groups of first-graders involved in a study of the forest, work together on a large mural depicting a variety of tree structures.
My Favorite Tree Drawing
For children who finish early, drawing is a logical follow-up to a tree-printing activity. Suggest that students draw a favorite tree, a tree that they know very well, or a more detailed drawing of a particular tree that they have studied. A favorite tree drawing activity is also a way to introduce a study of trees.
I find that a fine line black marker or ballpoint pen works well for drawing. Practicing and planning first with the cap on helps build confidence before actually beginning to draw.
My Favorite Tree by Amie, age 7
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!!)
- Press collected leaves under heavy books – overnight if possible.
- Place pressed leaves, veined side up, on a table.
- Cover leaves with paper and tape down the edges of the paper.
- Invite children to go on a treasure hunt with you. First, feel the paper with eyes closed.
- Use the side of unwrapped crayons to rub both the veins of the leaves and the edges. Encourage students to stand up and use their body weight in order to rub strong, vibrant colors.
- Match the leaves to the rubbings…
- Identify the branching structure of the veins. Is it symmetrical? alternating? radiating? Other?