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Exploring Trees on the Playground

child looking closely at a tree

About this video

Sap, Holes, and Ants

This video clip provides a glimpse of some of the interactions among the children and between the children and the environment that can occur when teachers involve children in outdoor education experiences. This clip was recorded at a university lab school in Illinois. It shows a small “study group” of preschool children interacting with each other as they investigate trees on their school playground on a warm, sunny day in early spring.

The children have come outdoors with one of their teachers to find out more about the trees. They have been exposed to some tree-related vocabulary, including such terms as “sap.” As a stimulus for close observation, the teacher has provided each child with a photograph of one of the trees. She has invited the children to figure out which trees are depicted in “their” photograph by comparing the tree’s actual appearance to the printed images.

In the process of matching trees to the photos, the children encounter features of the trees that interest them—dripping sap, holes in the trunks, and ants. They investigate these features on their own as well as with classmates, inviting others to look at what they have discovered and making suggestions.

The clip includes three segments. In the first segment, Pearl (age 4), who is holding the printed image of one of the trees, has paused to touch sap that has oozed out of one of the trees. She rubs it and picks at it with the fingernails of one hand. The teacher asks questions to encourage Pearl to explain what she is doing. The teacher might have invited Pearl to say more about the sap, but Pearl has turned away from the camera, rubbing her fingers to remove the sap from under her nails. As Pearl moves away, another child asks to touch the sap.

The second segment begins with Carol (age 4½) standing on an upturned bucket next to a tree on the playground. She uses a magnifier to look at the hole in a tree several feet off the ground. She gets the attention of Roy David (age 4½), accidentally calling him by another child’s name, then apologizing. (Roy David is holding a paper with the printed image of one of the trees.) He moves closer to her and confirms that he sees the hole. Carol comments enthusiastically that she sees wood in the hole. Roy David looks down at the ground, picks up a wood chip, and suggests using it to dig “stuff” out of the hole. Carol, still standing on the bucket, accepts the wood chip from Roy David and begins to poke around with it.

The final segment shows several children talking about what they have found on a tree. Before the segment begins, Carol and Roy David, who are standing next to a tree, talk about ants. As the segment begins, another child asks to see the ants. Carol replies that there are no ants on the tree, just on the ground. Off camera, a child calls out that he has found more sap, which seems to get the attention of the children around the tree. Carol calls Graham’s name several times, then announces that “we found” holes in his tree. (We can assume that she calls it “his” tree because it was the one depicted on the photo that he brought to the playground.) She is still using the magnifier to peer into one of the holes in the tree. Carol stays on the bucket when Graham (age 4½) approaches, but she jumps down and runs off moments later. Pearl then gets up on the bucket to look at the hole in the tree.

The Teacher’s Strategies

The teacher felt it might be useful to create some structure for the children’s initial observations of the trees by giving them computer printouts of photos of the trees and asking them to find “their” trees by comparing the printouts to the trees. This activity provides the children with a physically active alternative to choosing a tree and making an observational sketch of it. It also gives the teacher a chance to see individual children applying their observation skills to the task of making comparisons and finding a “match.”

The teacher provided upturned buckets for the children to stand on while they did their close observations. When a child stands on a bucket, he or she has access to a new perspective on the trees—that of a much taller person.

The teacher is shown asking questions only during the first segment of the video clip. In fact, after encouraging the children to compare the trees to their photographs when they first went outdoors, she did not speak much. Instead, we can see in these clips that she has focused on child-to-child interactions as the children explore the trees. This kind of exploration can be very important. It gives children a chance to have hands-on experience “at their own speed”—examining what they see and talking to each other. Sharing experiences and interests in this way can help build a sense of classroom community.

The video recordings that the teacher makes can be played back later on to foster some additional conversation among the children about what they encountered. At another time, she might invite the children outdoors to sketch the trees or those features that have interested them—the sap, the holes in the trees, and the ants. She might encourage them to make more comparisons, such as “I wonder if all three of the holes on that tree have the same stuff inside.” “Pearl said the sap felt frozen. Graham found some sap, too. Graham, would you please tell Pearl what that sap felt like?” If the children seem to have trouble describing what they have observed, the teacher might want to introduce some new vocabulary such as sticky, clear, and dripping.

It is a good idea for the teacher who is video recording to closely follow the children’s interests with the camera, recording from the child’s perspective if possible. For example, during the final segment of this video clip, the teacher gets a close-up view of a hole that has interested some of the children.



Part 1

Child off camera: No, I’m not.

Teacher: (To Pearl.) What are you touching?

Pearl: Sap.

Teacher: It’s sap?

Pearl: Yeah.

Teacher: How does it feel?

Pearl: (Rubs sap from her fingers.) Frozen.

Child: (Off camera.) Let me feel the sap.

Part 2

Carol: (Looks through magnifier at hole in tree.) Look up here, Graham. Look up on there (looking at Roy David and gesturing toward the hole).

Roy David turns to face Carol.

Carol: Sorry I called you Graham.

Roy David: Huh! (Goes closer to Carol, then points.) A hole in the tree!

Carol: It gots wood in it! (Puts her finger into the hole.) Put my finger in there.

Roy David: (Picks up a flat wood chip.) Hey, dig that stuff out with this! (Hands it to Carol.)

Part 3

Child: (Off camera.) Can I see the ants?

Carol: No. There is not a ant on that wood. There is an ant on the ground. (Moves to standing position on the upturned bucket.)

Child: (Off camera.) Found some more sap!

Carol: Hey, Graham! Graham! Grahamie! We found a hole in your tree. (Holds magnifier up to the hole.) We found three holes in your tree!

Pearl: (To Carol, off camera.) There’s a ant on your hand.

Carol: (Eventually notices ant.) Whooo! (Jumps down from the bucket.)

Pearl steps up on the bucket and begins to look into the hole in the tree.

Benchmarks and How They Were Met

BenchmarksHow They Were Met
11.A.ECd: Collect, describe, compare, and record information from observations and investigations.
Pearl touched and scraped sap with her fingers and responded to the teacher’s question about the sap.

A child requested to touch the sap that Pearl was investigating.

Carol announced that “There’s wood inside” a hole in a tree.

Carol and other children noticed three holes in one of the trees.
12.A.ECa: Observe, investigate, describe, and categorize living things.
The children observed the trees closely in order to match them to the printouts that the teacher has given them.

The children were able to recognize ants.
13.B.ECa: Use nonstandard and standard scientific tools for investigation.
Carol used a magnifier to look closely at features of the trees.
Social/emotional Development
30.A.ECb: Use appropriate communication skills when expressing needs, wants, and feelings.
Carol apologized to Roy David for calling him “Graham.”Roy David handed

Carol a wood chip and suggested that she use it to “dig that stuff” out of the hole in the tree.

Carol called Graham by name to get his attention so she could share information with him.
Social/emotional Development
30.C.ECa: Exhibit eagerness and curiosity as a learner.
Children showed interest in finding sap and investigating holes in trees.
Social/emotional Development
31.B.ECa: Interact verbally and nonverbally with other children.
Carol and Roy David talked with each other while checking out a hole in a tree. Children also called out to each other to report finding sap and holes in a tree.

Note: Video footage courtesy of University Primary School, Champaign, Illinois

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2017