Investigate what is in the tree tops without leaving the ground.
The arborist activities are designed to be repeated 3 or 4 times across the year, reflecting the different seasons and the progression of the children in your setting.
Early Learning Goal links
- Mathematics ELG: Numerical Patterns
- Understanding the World ELG: Past and Present
- Understanding the World ELG: People, Culture and Communities
- Understanding the World ELG: The Natural World
- Expressive Arts and Design ELG: Creating with Materials
STEM vocabulary to introduce
Stick, bark, branch, trunk, twig, leaf, leaves, fruit, seeds, lumpy, bumpy, knobbly, rough, ridged, bent, straight, smooth, soft, silky, velvety, silky, shiny, glossy, long, short, wide, narrow, thick, thin, big, small, colours, inside, outside, next to, in front of, behind, under, on top of, animal names, insect and mini beast names
Before you start
Show the children the arborist poster and tell the children that they are going to be arborists for this activity.
Ask the children if they know what an arborist does. Arborists work with lots of different people to make sure their trees are healthy.
Tell the children about the attributes. Arborists are:
Collaborative when they meet with people to plan how to look after their trees. They work in teams so they can keep each other safe.
Observant and notice what they need to do keep trees healthy of if there are part that need to be removed or cut down.
Resilient as their job is very tiring: climbing trees, digging out stumps and clearing away branches.
Tell the children that arborist spend a lot of time up trees, finding out what it is like up there. Today they will be arborists and will be going for a tree top walk. They collaborative, working in a team to keep each other safe. They will be observant and notice what they can see in the tree tops.
Using the mirrors will encourage the children to concentrate on one part of a tree at a time, developing their observation skills.
What to do
Go to the wooded area you will be using and give each child a mirror. Show the children how to hold their mirrors under their noses and how to angle the mirror so they can see the top of the trees.
You could ask:
- What can you see?
- Are there any animals up there?
- What does it look like at the top of the tree?
- Can you describe it to me?
You could ask the children to angle their mirror so they can ‘climb’ the trees, like an arborist, starting from the roots, then moving slowly up the trunk to the tree tops.
You could ask:
- What does the trunk look like?
- Can see any animals or mini beasts?
- Can you describe them to me?
- How does the tree change as you travel up it?
- How do you know when you are at the top?
When you have observed the tree top, you could ask the children to ‘climb’ back down, looking out for anything that has changed since they climbed up. Ask the children to carefully move around the trees, looking into the mirror, while also watching where they are walking. They could ‘climb’ up and down each tree they visit.
You could ask:
- Are all of the trees the same?
- Can you tell me how they are different?
- Which tree is taller/wider/has more branches/has less leaves?
- Which is your favourite tree? Why?
Other things to try
When you have completed your tree top walk, ask the children to draw a map of what they have seen up there. You might want to do this as a group or get children to record what they have seen independently.
You could ask:
- Where was the first tree we looked at?
- Where will you draw it on your paper?
- What did you see in the tree?
- Can you add that to your map?
- Where did you go next?
- Was it in front/behind/next to the first tree?
- Where will you draw that on your map?
- What do you need to add to it?
You may have spotted birds, insects and mini beasts, squirrels or other animals in your trees. Over the year, you could record when they appear using a calendar, floor book or display.
Remember to refer to the children as arborists and praise them for using the attributes. You could say things like:
“You have been observant like an arborist because you spotted lots of different shaped branches in the tree tops…”
You could encourage the children to observe the colours of the leaves and sketch these or collect the fallen leaves to use in leaf printing.
You could use charcoal to draw the bare trunks and branches, looking closely at the shape of the trees without their leaves.
Do any of the trees have leaf buds or blossom? You could encourage the children to carefully feel, observe and sketch this.
You could make models of any seeds or fruit your trees have produced using dough or clay, observing shape and size.
As the children become confident in describing the trees, you may want to use this as a provocation in pairs, developing collaboration. The children could take turns with one child using the mirror and the other child guiding them around the trees, then swapping roles. They would be keeping each other safe, just like arborists do.
The science of trees
We have put together some useful information about the science of trees to accompany this activity. Don’t worry, this is for your information only and to help you answer any questions children may have. We don’t expect you to explain this to the children in your setting!
Why do trees change over a year?
Trees that change over the year are usually deciduous trees. Deciduous means “fall off” as the leaves of these trees fall off in the autumn. In the spring the buds start to appear and these huge flowering plants produce blossom. By the summer the trees are full of leaves. The leaves are green because they contain a chemical called chlorophyll which helps them to photosynthesise (use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates and oxygen) to make food.
Once the blossom has been pollinated and fertilised, the trees produce their seeds and fruit. This is generally in late summer or early autumn. During the autumn, days become darker and the trees can’t make as much food. The leaves lose their green chlorophyll and begin to turn yellow, orange or red before falling off the trees.
During the winter, trees become dormant (growth stops but can start again) and protect themselves from the cold weather by producing hormones to combat dehydration and frozen cells.
The video below from the Woodland Trust shows the lifecycle of an oak tree over a year.
Which trees are best for attracting wildlife?
Birch: over 500 species of invertebrates feed on the bark of this tree. Combined with the high volume of seed it produces, this makes the birch tree very attractive to birds.
Crab apple: over 90 species of insects live on the Crab apple and it’s white and pink blossom attracts bees in the spring. Birds ( in particular greenfinches, robins, starlings and thrushes) will feed on the fruit in the autumn. It is a misconception that crab apples are toxic.
Other tree that attract wildlife include Alder, Beech, Pine and Larch, which produce seed that attracts birds. Trees such as cherry which produce blossom and fruit attract insects and birds. Oak trees provide food for insects, birds and mammals and also provide nesting sites for birds.
The Woodland Trust has an easy to use guide and app to help you identify trees.
How does the mirror reflect the trees?
Light comes from a source such as the sun or a light bulb and travels in a straight line. When light hits an object, it bounces off and is reflected and enters our eyes. This is how we see. If light hits a rough surface, it bounces off at different angles, meaning the light is scattered and doesn’t reflect well. If the light hits a smooth, flat surface, the light bounces off at the same angle and a reflection is created.