Mountain School @ Home: Lesson #2 – Tree Bud Journal

Students! Parents! Teachers! During this time of school closures and stay-at-home guidelines, North Cascades Institute is sharing lessons and activities from our talented Mountain School instructors. We hope these will inspire students of all ages to continue to learn about the natural world and discover new connections to the outdoors from home. This lesson was created by Mountain School instructor Sarah Meyer. We'll post more outdoor activities for students and parents in the days to come, stay tuned to our blog or website.

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Up here in the Skagit Valley, the songbirds have returned and there are fluffy buds appearing on willow branches along the river. Spring is in the air, and it is the perfect time to investigate up-close one of the most wonderful parts of the year: the leaves returning to our favorite deciduous trees and shrubs!

For this Mountain School @ Home lesson, I’m sharing an ongoing project to do with your young learners over the course of the season, and beyond. Get ready to befriend a tree!

Snapshots from my sketchbook as I drew the developing buds of Quercus robur, English Oak.

At Mountain School, we love to make observations of all varieties and at all levels of complexity. This multi-week activity is perfect for tuning you and your child’s senses to the changes happening in the natural world–whether you’re in the wilderness or exploring a built environment.


Gather together some plain paper, a pencil, drawing/coloring materials, and a short piece of ribbon or brightly-colored string (no more than 10”). You will also need a tree you can visit continually over several weeks.

Choose your tree

For this activity, you and your student will choose a deciduous tree (one that sheds its leaves annually to go dormant for the winter) close to your home. An ideal tree will have a branch hanging low enough for your child to reach and examine up close, and will just be beginning to bud or leaf out. (Neither of you need to be able to identify the tree, but perhaps you will discover its identity as the season progresses!) Choose one single twig on this branch, no more than a couple inches, and tie a ribbon or brightly-colored string next to it so you remember which bud you are observing–be careful not to disturb the bud’s growth with your string. It will be yours to observe in the coming weeks!

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