Thursday, November 21, 2019

What Scientists and Girl Scouts Do: Leaf Rubbings and Tree Identification

We're at the point in our homeschool journey in which I need to check off lots of different boxes for the kids' various activities and studies. Will has a full high school course load of both traditional and non-traditional studies all done in non-traditional ways, and both kids have several different Girl Scout badges and Journeys at two different levels that they're simultaneously working on. When we do schoolwork together, then, each kid records the same activity in very different ways.

Identifying trees based on their leaves, and making rubbings of each leaf to include in a portfolio of positive identifications, is part of Syd's eighth-grade biology study (we're still using CK-12 Biology for that!), and one of the activities required to earn the retired Girl Scout Cadette Plant Kingdom: Trees and Shrubs badge. Will is using the same activity for her AP Environmental Science study, and as one of the activities for the Girl Scout Senior Sow What Journey.

Leaf rubbings aren't difficult--here's a leaf rubbing tutorial that I wrote here on my blog a decade ago! Look at how focused little five-year-old Will was!

And there's three-year-old Syd, who's apparently now spent over a decade doing her own art instead of the structured activity...

But making leaf rubbings is still great fun, even for a fifteen-year-old and a thirteen-year-old (and a 43-year-old!):

And actually, not long after that original leaf rubbing activity, I bought a set of (I use Amazon Affiliate links!) block crayons that makes this kind of art a LOT easier and more fun:

Whereas those little ones a decade ago mostly concentrated on the motor coordination to make a successful leaf rubbing, and then the observational skills to admire their work, these big ones were required to use a variety of tree identification guides to positively identify each tree leaf:

Some are quite easy, because we all know which trees bear us lovely fruit and nuts!

 The kids also know these by heart, thanks to their distinctive leaves:

But for others, they had to do some research:

I suspected this was an invasive, because it LOVES to encroach upon the borders of our little forest. Now that Will positively identified it for us, we can be ever more enthusiastic about whacking it all down to the ground every year!

I'd always wondered what these trees were in our yard--now I know!
Here are the tree identification guides that we check out of the library to aid our research:

True to form, Syd wandered away after a bit to go and build a fire in our driveway (checking off the box for practicing cooking on her hobo stove so she could teach the rest of our Girl Scout troop during a camping trip the next weekend)--

--but Will seemed to really enjoy searching for new trees to identify and record, and stayed at the project for quite a long time:

Thanks to her, I think we've got every tree in our yard identified. I had no idea that the hammock trees are an Eastern Red Cedar and a sugar maple!

On a different day, the kids and I went to our local university's campus one morning to attend a school matinee of the musical theatre production Big Fish (checking off a box for Will's Musical Theatre study), and after a picnic lunch of Nutella, pretzels, and apples, we headed out on a self-guided walking tour of campus trees using a university-published brochure.

Here's Syd trying to get bonked on the head by an acorn:

And yes, the kids collected acorns and acorn caps so that later we can check off the boxes for starting trees from seed (Syd's Cadette badge and biology study, and Will's AP Environmental Science study again) and making nature crafts (if you don't make a seasonal craft project, did that season even happen?).

It was a beautiful day for checking off boxes and spending time with my girls:

We spent forever trying to find the chinkapin oak, me declaring several times that the giant tree the walking tour seemed to be guiding us to could NOT be the correct tree, because oak leaves don't look like that.

Thank goodness for Google, I guess!

This oak is more what I'm used to:

This tree is another easy identification:

After a while, we abandoned the walking tour, because the kids found something even better:

From then on, the goal of the game was to find as many informational plaques as possible. With an informational plaque, you don't even have to look up the Latin name yourself! AND you get to touch something that the Dalai Lama planted!

To complete this project on another day, I had the kids make brown paper bag journals and paste their leaf rubbings and tree identifications into them. They were each required to choose five of their trees to conduct further research on and source additional images for; they're going to become experts on these five trees. 

We collected our leaves just in time, because two days later, the temperature went from eighty degrees to forty and poof! Just like that the trees are bare and we're wearing coats.

These are my favorite types of projects to do with the kids. One of my main homeschooling goals is keeping our learning just as hands-on and exploratory as it was when they were little, and although of course that's impossible to achieve literally, because we're certainly not going to pull out the manipulatives for every single algebra problem or LARP every event from AP European History or have a themed feast for every single novel on the Grades 9-12 MENSA reading list, there's no reason not to take every single small excuse possible to go to live theatre, or spend the afternoon walking outdoors with crayons in hand, or grow oak trees from acorns.

And if that sounds too tooth-achingly wholesome for you, you should know that thanks to further boxes needing to be checked for Honors Biology Grade 8 and AP Psychology, there's a mail-order sheep's brain coming to our house real soon. If you bring your own scalpel, I'll let you come dissect it with us!

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