By Jan Dollinger
November comes to Houston offering cool weather and delightful days. What a perfect time to entice your peeps into the great outdoors!
It’s time for watching the ducks or running down the Miller Theatre hill at Hermann Park. Or, walking to school with an extra spring in your step or strolling the nature trails at the Nature Discovery Center in Bellaire, or at the Houston Arboretum. Or going buggin’ in your own fascinating Bellaire or West University backyard.
OR, what if this is the fall for you and yours to fall in love with trees? The poet William Blake wrote, “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” Let’s shoot for some tears of joy! Often becoming aware of one part of the natural world is the gateway to a deeper enjoyment of it all.
Sooo – when do we start? To tell you the truth, time outside under the shade of a nice big tree can calm even a fussy newborn. By four months a baby’s far vision is as sharp as that of an adult. Use the motion of a tree on a breezy day to entertain your baby. Take a quilt, a couple of pillows and your tiny one out under your favorite tree and just lie there watching the branches swaying in the breeze. Make a pallet under a window where your baby can lie and watch the leaves dance even when she is indoors.
For Toddlers and Twos, a big old oak offers hours of fun. All you need is an oak and a small tin bucket. Your little collectors love the clink, clink, clink of acorns being dropped into the bucket. Two-year-olds will make a long line of acorns if you take the lead and begin that first “acorn train.” Cracks or lines on a sidewalk can be a template.
Preschoolers love a good scavenger hunt. Have them bring you three different kinds of leaves, five acorns, four sticks and a pine cone. Look around. Use what you see. Give them a short list, and sit back and sip your tea! Another idea? Have them find and match the leaves you show them.
Russ Pitman Park and the Nature Discovery Center grounds in Bellaire offer the perfect place for treetop moments. Kids in the primary grades delight in the Meet a Tree game from Joseph Cornell’s Sharing Nature with Children. Blindfold a child and lead him to any tree that attracts you. Encourage him to use his hands to investigate the tree. Is the bark smooth or rough? Is the tree skinny or fat? Can you feel any branches? Does the tree have feet? How does it smell? Then lead him back to where you started — but you might want to take an indirect route back. Remove the blindfold and see if he can find the tree. Cornell says, “Suddenly as the child searches for ‘his’ tree, what was a forest becomes a collection of very individual trees.”
The ultimate in tree discovery comes when your child, or your family, informally adopts a nearby tree. You keep an eye on that tree all year, letting your child take pictures with your phone. You begin in November and talk about how the tree’s leaves are changing colors — or at least getting duller.
Is the tree providing berries or acorns to feed the birds and squirrels? Does anything live in the tree? You notice as those leaves begin to fall. You see that tree has to face the winter with bare branches. You watch for the tiny leaf buds in March or April — and then you celebrate with the fullness of your tree’s green crown in the summer.
This fall, seek out a deep connection with trees for you and for the children in your life — or the child inside you.
You are simply never too young or too old to fall in love with trees.
Dollinger is a master naturalist and volunteer at the Nature Discovery Center in Bellaire