Jahbi Gaskin, M.A.Ed is an educator from Oakland, CA and directs a nature-based, Montessori microschool in Sacramento and Camp Perigee in the Berkeley/Oakland hills. Find out more at www.theperigee.org/home
At a time when we’re all looking for ways to engage our children because of the pandemic, it has become even more important to allow children the freedom to appreciate the beauty of nature close to home.
We took this Montessori-inspired leaf classification activity out to the local trails to extend the learning and heighten our environmental awareness.
Redwood Regional Park is a perfect place to explore with nature-curious kids
Redwood Regional Park is a hidden gem that spans 1,830 acres, so there’s plenty of room to social distance from the rare passersby. The temperature drops considerably under the canopy of redwoods as the thick fog rolls in, so dress in layers especially during the summer. Click here for an enlarged version of the park map.
The sprawling trails are lined with coast redwoods, ferns, eucalyptus trees, and pine trees. On our journey, we collected as many types of tree leaves as the little nature explorers desired.
How to take a leaf classification walk
- Before heading out on the trails, we set our intentions to go on a leaf scavenger hunt and then to sort our nature treasures into categories. Setting intentions before heading out on the trails with younger children helps to engage them in their surroundings and to root them in the moment.
- We actively observe tree leaves and their characteristics, using language to describe what we see
- Once we collect all of our leaves, we add them to our leaf collection and look closer at them at a picnic table while sorting them. This could happen either at the park or later on after a rest.
Pro tip: In order to more adeptly learn the subtle contours, the similarities, and the differences of each leaf, we use the Montessori Botany Cabinet which includes leaf puzzles and a wooden stylus for tracing the inset shape. The Botany Cabinet is a wooden cabinet containing drawers of leaf-shaped insets in a frame. There are usually three or four drawers, and each drawer contains as many as six leaf shaped insets and frames. 510Families.com has included an affiliate link to this product on Amazon for your convenience.
We examine the shapes and learn the names of leaves by tracing their borders and matching them to the leaves we found in our natural environment on the surrounding trails.
Here are a few of the main characteristics of leaves that inspire naturally curious kids to start identifying leaf shapes while on the trails:
- simple (single blade) or compound (more than one leaf blade);
- opposite or alternate leaf arrangements;
- wavy, hairy, lobed, toothy, pointy leaf margins
- heart-shaped, rounded or tapering leaf bases
A core intention of this exercise is not to make a child ‘learn’ these, but to spark a greater interest in the natural world by deepening one’s appreciation for the diversity found in nature.
Nature-based Montessori tools for kids
Having the right tools can turn exploration into education. Nature-based Montessori really brings the botany projects to life and feels like a child-led field study. I really appreciate that the materials are made out of solid wood and are durable enough for outdoor use (again and again).
The Botany Cabinet serves as an engaging introduction to the wonderful world of botany. For a more in-depth look at the Montessori leaf shape activities, be sure to get a copy of Mary da Prato’s book, My First Montessori Book of Leaf Shapes.
We enjoy playing card games with these $4 Leaf Cards that allow us to match the leaf shapes and names. The Botany Cabinet Control Chart is also easily portable, affordable ($6) and sturdy enough to bring along with us.
For older children (6-9), and adults alike, this material may be used extensively to explore leaf names, classify leaves by their properties and to develop appropriate vocabulary while investigating the natural world. After reviewing the parts of a leaf (blade, veins, petiole, and stipules), we took a closer look at the features of a few different types of leaves to notice what they had in common and how they differed.
I hope you enjoy the adventure!
Thanks again to Jahbi Gaskin, M.A.Ed for this guest post. Follow her activities on Instagram for more fantastic lessons you can try yourself at home — or out on the trails.