A Tree is Nice—Exploring seasonal changes WHEN the season changes

Children compare leaves.In regions where trees drop their leaves in fall, this big change draws children’s attention to the existence of seasonal changes. More subtle changes and incremental changes, such as more or less rain and slowly dropping or rising air temperatures may not be noticed unless we support children’s awareness by having them make and record weather measurements. In some education programs, if it is October, it is time to teach a unit about fall changes to the environment even if no noticeable change has happened, and in January, snow precipitation may be celebrated with books and crafts, even if the thermometer reads 65ºF.

A fallen maple leaf in red fall color.

“Can I get a ‘like’?”

Seasonal changes and weather measurement can be part of learning about patterns, one of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Crosscutting Concepts and an important math concept. Crosscutting concepts can help students better understand core ideas in science and engineering. 

  1. Patterns. Observed patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification, and they prompt questions about relationships and the factors that influence them.

In NGSS Appendix G-Crosscutting Concepts, it is noted that it makes sense to begin developing an understanding of a natural phenomenon by observing and characterizing the phenomenon in terms of patterns (page 2). 

The NGSS Kindergarten Earth’s Systems performance expectation K-ESS2-1. states:

“Students who demonstrate understanding can: Use and share observations of local weather conditions to describe patterns over time.”

Children making observations might notice:

  • The temperature has been getting lower, colder, since summer.
  • When it rains the sky is cloudy. 

Understanding our own local environment provides a frame of reference when learning about other places with different kinds of weather, flora, and fauna. How can we appreciate how dry a desert is, or how wet a rainforest is, if we don’t know how much rainfall our locality gets in a typical month or year?

Calendar for the month of October with weather symbols for each day's observation.Collecting weather data can be as simple as keeping and posting a calendar poster of the daily weather as reported by children each morning or after recess: sunny, rainy, windy, cloudy, snowy and any combination of those conditions. Don’t wait for it to be time for the “Weather Unit”—start today so your children can collect enough weather data to recognize a change in the pattern when it happens. (See The Early Years columns, October 2015 “About the Weather,” and “The Wonders of Weather.”)

First grade documentation of a fallen leaf A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry and illustrated by Marc Simont celebrates trees. “Befriending” a nearby tree is one way to observe both obvious and subtle seasonal changes. What kinds of structures do the leaves have? When do new buds form and how big are they relative to a child’s pinky fingernail? How big are they the next time you make observations? What does the bark of this tree look and feel like? Are seeds hanging on the tree or on the ground surrounding it? Are any of the seeds sprouting? So many ways to mark seasonal changes!

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