Sunday, January 28, 2018

Hug a Tree

This week in Jewish schools, children will celebrate Tu B'Shvat, the "birthday of the trees".  They will eat fruits, examine nuts and seeds, maybe do some planting, and learn about the multiple ways that trees serve people, animals, and the environment.  Trees have real and symbolic meaning in many cultures and  religions.  They are a treasure of the natural world, and they depend on us to take care of them.

Some of my favorite childhood memories involve trees.  My close friend Diane lived at the top of a hill that was a dead end.  Her house was surrounded on two sides by trees which kept it buffeted from the parkway.   We called that section of our neighborhood "the woods".  Diane and I often climbed a tree at the side of her house, sometimes just hanging out, sometimes bringing books to read.  Our elementary school was a block from Diane's and just across the street from my house.  There were several trees in our school yard.  One was a big pine tree that we climbed in competition with other neighborhood kids to see who could climb the highest.  I usually got in trouble at home for getting pine sap stuck in my hair, which was hard for my mom to wash out.  Diane and I also claimed a tree of our own:  a mulberry tree at the side of our school, that only blossomed in June.  We would climb the tree and gorge ourselves on all the mulberries we could eat.  Yum.  And another big, old tree in front of our school was my secret spot for imaginative play.  The roots stuck out, and the tree was surrounded by dirt.  I would take twigs and pebbles and design the floor plan of a house, including furniture and a pool. I could lose myself in that play for hours.

Do you have memories of childhood experiences in nature?  What emotions do they evoke?  

We often talk about teaching the "whole child", facilitating all the components of his developmental growth:  physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and moral.  Allowing children to experience the natural world addresses each of these developmental areas.  Take a look at my memories, for example.  What did I learn?  I learned that trees could be a place for solace and tranquility, whether reading a book in its branches, listening to the wind and birds, or sitting and playing at its trunk.  I learned the capabilities of my body in climbing, balancing, understanding which branches could or couldn't support me.  I learned that trees give off delightful products, like pine-smelling sap, or delicious berries.  I also learned the difference between deciduous and coniferous trees, though I may not have had the vocabulary at the time.

There are endless lessons that teachers can develop around trees, in every area of early childhood curriculum:  math, science, literacy, art, music and movement.  Expounding on any one of these areas would be way more than I could reasonably fit into a blog post.  Each area is rich with possibilities and absolutely fascinating.   Several years ago, I gave a professional workshop on teaching math through nature.  In preparing for this workshop, I learned about fibonacci numbers.  These are numbers that are used repeatedly in patterns in nature.  It is a remarkable topic and to my mind proves the existence of G-d.  Take a look at this youtube video and see if you agree:

  The natural environment is a teacher. It stimulates our imagination and sense of wonder.  It encourages us to use all of our senses, improving our focus and attention skills.  All children deserve the chance to form a relationship with nature, both for the myriad of benefits they will gain as well as to motivate them to protect it.  Trees grace our world with both beauty and function.  Their survival in large part depends on how we choose to teach our children.

No comments:

Post a Comment