On a chilly morning earlier this month, Chapin’s Kindergarteners bundled up and rode a bus bound for outdoor adventure. Their destination? The New York Botanical Garden to learn all about trees!
Walking along a winding path through a marsh, they delighted over a family of ducks swimming amongst the tall weeds and grasses. Upon leaving the marsh, they found themselves in a large clearing full of trees and were greeted by the tour guide that would lead them on a nature walk.
“What do you know about trees?” the guide asked as they began walking. “They give us oxygen so that we can breathe,” a student replied. “We use them to make paper,” said another. “Look up!” the tour guide exclaimed. The students turned their attention towards the sky and gasped with excitement as they spotted a bird’s nest nestled amongst a tree’s branches. “Trees also provide homes for birds and other animals,” the guide explained.
Continuing their walk, the group made their way to a cypress tree, where the guide pointed out its many roots emerging from the ground below. “This tree is special because it likes to show off its roots,” she explained. “Roots help the tree to grow by soaking up nutrients and they also hold the tree in the ground. This tree’s roots are above ground so that it’s easier for them to find a water source.”
Although a tree might be big and wide, we can never tell its age just by looking at it. “Does anyone know how we can tell the age of a tree?” the guide asked. “I know! It’s the rings!” one eager student replied.
To allow the students to practice calculating a tree’s age, the guide handed out small sections of tree trunks, or “tree cookies” as she fondly called them. Carefully and quietly the students counted the rings on their “cookies” to find the tree’s age. “You may notice that some of the rings are thick and some are thin,” she added. “When a tree has a good year, with lots of sun and rain, it will produce a thick ring. But when a tree has a bad year, with hot temperatures and low rain, it will produce a thin ring.” “My tree had a rough life,” one concerned student shared.
The guide then held up her own special “tree cookie.” It looked much like the others except for a large brown stain covering a section of the wood. “Trees are intelligent and they try to protect themselves from getting hurt,” she explained. The students were amazed to learn that the dark circle was created when the tree released a chemical to prevent a bug from boring into its trunk.
As they continued their walk, the students stopped in front of a large evergreen tree and learned that there are two types of trees – deciduous, which drop their leaves in the fall, and evergreen, which stay green year-round and produce pinecones. The students looked at the pinecones on the ground surrounding the evergreen and noticed that some were small and closed up and others were large and more open. “Pinecones make and hold the tree’s seeds,” the guide shared. “In the fall, the tree’s pinecones open up, fall from the tree and move with the wind, spreading the tree’s seeds across the ground.” So, a small, closed pinecone contains seeds while a large, open pinecone does not.
To finish their tour of the Botanical Gardens the students hiked through what is New York City’s only urban forest. The last forest left in the city, it has been carefully preserved and contains trees that are hundreds of years old. As they walked down the trail the students noticed squirrels, birds and lots of trees, but they also spotted one thing that didn’t quite belong… a fire hydrant! “Because this forest is part of the city it has to comply with New York fire codes,” the guide noted with a laugh.
The group saw many natural wonders as they hiked, including a hawk floating through the sky above and a giant rock that dates back to the Ice Ages. They even learned that trees take in the carbon dioxide we release when we exhale and turn it into oxygen.
While these Kindergarteners are taught to leave nature as they find it, this time they were able to bring a small assortment of colorful leaves and seeds back to Chapin for further study. The girls carefully scanned the forest floor, searching for the perfect item to collect and placing it gently into a bag. Their guide provided the teachers with worksheets that would allow the students to identify which tree species their items belong to when they returned to school.
After resting and regrouping over a picnic lunch, the students boarded the bus back to Chapin. This hands-on study of trees is just one of the many wonders of science they’ll discover throughout their time in the Lower School.
Browse photos from the field trip below: