I want my children to grow up like my father brilliant at identifying trees. And no better time for them to start learning than when the leaves change colour and fall throughout Autumn.
Whether walking in a park or deep in the woods, my aim is for them to see the difference between an English oak, beech, hazel, chestnut, elm, sycamore, maple and more.
So we’ve begun young naturalist expeditions to name trees by spotting their Autumn leaves. A walk near or in woods becomes an adventure when they have to seek and name different leaves whether on the ground or on low lying branches.
BBC Wildlife Magazine had an Autumn leaves guide this month which I cut out and copied for my twins to take with them on their leaf spotting walk.
It’s also available free here online.
We also learnt in a previous walk as nature detectives that a great way to learn both the names and differences between shapes is by bringing along paper and crayons to make leaf rubbings.
But it wasn’t just shapes they were seeking. They also began recognizing Autumn leaves by their colours. Depending on the tree some leaves turn yellow or orange or brown while others turn red. During Autumn when there is less light due to shorter days, the green chlorophyll in leaves begins to disappear. As this green ‘cloak’ fades away, we start seeing the underlying yellow and orange colours or new shades of red and purple forming.
So a leaf from an English Oak will turn yellow-brown while Beech’s oval leaves will turn reddish.
And, as we searched for a variety of leaves, I noticed my children were not just staring at the ground but were also looking up at the branches of trees. They wanted to double check and match the leaves on the ground with each tree.
After our recent mushroom hunt, they also kept stopping to point out different fungi on the ground. And insisted I take some photos of their discoveries. They really are becoming young naturalists!
A downpour ended this particular leaf hunt – although, of course, my kids were looking out for puddles filled with leaves to splash in on our way back – but we’ll go on many more. I don’t expect them to identify Autumn leaves and trees from just one walk!