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Summer is here in full force, so I’ve been spending more time in the shade of big trees.

When I see a big tree, I feel a sense of wonder just like I did when I was a kid. Trees hold the title of some of the biggest, oldest and most beautiful living things in the world.

But any tree can help your children develop a love of nature and can teach many things — patience, observation, sorting skills and creativity. Here are a few ways to get your kids exploring trees in a hands-on way!

Comparing and contrasting trees and tree parts

A simple activity is to go for a walk and find as many different kinds of trees as you can. The Apple Capital Loop Trail in Wenatchee, Blackbird Island in Leavenworth, Entiatqua Park in Entiat and the Tumwater Pipeline Trail up Highway 2 are all family friendly trails with a variety of trees. Encourage your children to ask questions about why they are different and what they have in common.

Then, challenge your kids to find different parts of trees — leaves, seeds, bark, etc. — and categorize them. Be sure to only pick up dead and detached tree parts so as not to damage the tree. Find different types of each part and ask your kids to compare and contrast the different parts.

Tree art

You can have your kids gently pound leaves with a hammer on a piece of cloth or heavy paper to create an imprint of the leaf — in color!

Collect some leaves, then on a table, arrange them on watercolor paper, other heavier-grade art paper or cotton cloth. You may want to tape the leaves down to keep them in place. Place a paper towel or wax paper on top to control the goo that comes out of the leaves. Then have your kids tap the leaves all over using a hammer or mallet. Remove the paper towel and the leaves, and admire your work of art!

Pine cone weather station

Did you know that pine cones can tell the weather? Well, the humidity at least. Take a pine cone and put it outside in a visible spot, like on a windowsill or balcony railing. When the weather is dry, the pine cone stays open, but when the humidity rises, the pine cone will close up. You can test this by putting a pine cone in a jar of water. The next morning, you’ll find the pine cone closed tight.

Why does this happen? Pine cones hold small, paper-light seeds. When the weather is dry, the cones open and wind carries the seed far enough away from its parent so that it won’t compete for water and sunlight. When the weather is humid, the chance of rain is higher. If the seeds get wet, they can’t travel as far, so the pine cone closes up to keep the seeds safe until a dry day.

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