Winter Trees and Poetry

Winter is Coming. At least in our part of the world. As a child, rain was the constant companion of winter on the Oregon Coast. Though it is still yet a constant, we do now see more sunshine and snow is as infrequent as ever.

a trail through along the river in late winter, coniferous trees border the trail and the trail has been cut through a fallen logWhat I love about this time of year is the opportunity to really see the trees. In winter, the bare branches stand like skeletons against the sky. While I have grown accustomed to identifying trees by their cones and leaves, I am now challenged to identify them solely by their branches and buds.

Trees that once had leaves are bare.
They’re dressed instead in lacy white.
Snow dusts their trunks and coats their limbs
with flakes that outline them with light.

Winter Trees 

One of the books I most enjoyed sharing with my children when they were younger was Winter Trees by Carole Gerber. In this story, a boy and his dog use their senses of sight and touch to identify seven common trees in the snow covered forest.

Providing clues about how to identify trees in the winter, the text invites readers to explore the outdoors on a more intimate level. Intricate yet simple illustrations and lyrical text make distinguishing different types of trees easy, even in the middle of winter.

It’s a sweet little book. The verse is uncluttered and reverent. Leslie’s brightly-colored block prints, decorated with watercolor and collage (with some digital enhancement, as well), are striking. It is a beautiful blend of play, science, poetry, and art.

Do You Know That Tree?

Close your eyes and picture a tree. How big is it? What kind of geometric shape is it? How are the branches arranged? Does it have leaves or needles?  Does it have any kind of fruit. Now open your eyes and draw what you pictured in your mind.

Now grab your coat, your nature journal materials, and head outside. Walk around your neighborhood or along a favorite woodland trail. Find a tree of interest to you – perhaps one you have taken notice in the past. Note the trunks.  Is there one main trunk or does it split into multiple trunks? Are they straight or bent?

Look at the overall shape of the tree.  What geometric shape is its leaf/needle crown? Look at the bark.  What color is it? Is it smooth or rough.  Does it peel?  Feel it. Describe how it feels.

Tall yellow poplar’s furrowed bark
surrounds a trunk that’s straight and neat.

yellow poplar leaf on the trunk of a treeDoes it have many large branches, or branches that have lots of twigs? What colors are the leaves or needles? How are they shaped? Do they have any distinguishing characteristics? Are there any seeds, flowers, fruits, nuts, or cones on the tree? There may be some on the ground.

If the weather is conducive, sit down and draw a few sketches of your tree. If it’s raining, take a few photographs and do the journaling when you get back inside.

Record words, ideas, and impressions that enter your mind. Use your sense of touch, smell, sight, and sound to generate more words.


Now, compare and contrast your two drawings. Finally, challenge your children (or yourself) to convert their (your) thoughts into a poem. There are several forms to choose from: Haiku, Diamante, Fluxus, or a Shape Poem. Download the free Poet-Tree guide from Project Learning Tree.

simple graphic image of green grass on white background with text Nature Book Club

Welcome to the Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month. We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details.

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

Here are the co-hosts, their choices of books, and activities for this month:

Sky Tree Art Project by Emily at Table Life Blog

Winter Trees & Poetry by Eva at Eva Varga

The House at Pooh Corner Online Book Club by Dachelle at Hide The Chocolate

The Busy Tree Flap Book Activity Activity by Katrina at Rule This Roost

Plant a Tree, Nature Study Printable and Candle Holder by Sharla at Minnesota Country Girl

Party Rules
Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it.

Let’s party!
Welcome to the Nature Book Club!
*November theme: Trees & Twigs*

Blending Science and Poetry

It’s National Poetry Month!!

Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month, held every April, is the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture.

Poetry is the perfect vehicle for capitalizing on moments whereby science overlaps with language arts. Poets, like naturalists, find their subject matter and inspiration in the natural world. Poetry is a means to study nature, as is science.

Science and poetry use language in a fundamentally different manner. Though each attempts to find a language for the unknown, to represent accurately some carefully observed aspect of the world. While the two disciplines employ language in different ways, they are kindred spirits in their creative process.

It is thereby the perfect time to share with you a few resources the blend poetry into your science units throughout the year.

Blending Science and Poetry @EvaVarga.netScience & Poetry Activities

There are many ways to integrate poetry into your science curriculum. Most simply, science themed poetry can be added into activities that are already a part of your schedule. Set aside time to read poems that tie into the curriculum, for example, to accompany a study of insects or the night sky.

Create a Found Poem ~ Use a descriptive paragraph from an non-fiction text, news article, or an encyclopedia. Ask students to underline or highlight words that they think are important. List these underlined words on a separate piece of paper and a poem will begin to emerge. Can you make it more poetic by rearranging them? Are there some words that aren’t necessary?

Copy the Masters ~ Find inspiration from master poets and use one of their poems as a framework for your own as my son did in his poem, I’ve Known Rivers.

Celebrate the Spoken Word ~ Poems can be read and reread in very little time. Try reading one together or memorizing a favorite to perform as spoken word. Invite students to read aloud poems written for two voices like Joyful Noise.

Try Blackout Poetry ~ Photocopy a page from an old textbook or use a newspaper article about a current event to create blackout poetry.

Nature Journaling ~ Copy poems – either those written by you or by others – into your nature journals to complement your sketches.

Poetry Tea Time ~ Set aside time each day for a break from the fast-paced demands of homeschooling, parenting, and household running. Slowing down to sip tea (or hot chocolate or cider or coffee or lemonade or juice) creates the perfect space to contemplate rhymes and riddles, limericks and sonnets.

Blending Science and Poetry @EvaVarga.netScience & Poetry Selected Works

There a many wonderful books of poetry that incorporate ones love of nature and the outdoors. I’ve selected a few of my favorites to share with you.

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleishman is written to be read aloud by two voices ~ sometimes alternating, sometimes simultaneous. This collection of charming poems celebrates the insect world, from the short life of the mayfly to the love song of the book louse. I found an audio version to which we listened first – and then we had a blast reading them together.

Another book by the same author is I Am Phoenix: Poems for Two Voices celebrates the sound, the sense, the essence of birds.

Gecko on the Wall

Her jaws dart out
To crunch up flies.

Her tongue flicks up
To wipe her eyes.

She climbs up walls
With eerie cries.

Her tail comes off:
A wriggling prize!

She sprints and leaps
and slinks and spies . . .

Don’t you wish you were a gecko?

The Haiku pomes in The Year Comes Round are accompanied by beautiful images illustrating the time of the year presented in the poem. At the end of the book the reader is given an explanation of Haiku form, the cycle of life, and each of the seasons through which this delightful little book has just taken the reader.

In A Strange Place to Call Home, fourteen poems by Marilyn Singer celebrate the unusual animals that have adapted to equally unusual habitats where competition is light and safety from predators is great. A variety of poem styles are utilized, including free verse, rhyming, haiku, triolet, villanelle, and terza rima.

You’ll love Joyce Sidman’s collection of nocturnal musings of plants and animals who inhabit the night world in Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night. Each poem describes the habits and behaviors of a special nocturnal plant or animal in imaginative poetry.

Another book by the same author is Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow takes us on a tour through an open meadow, beginning with the rising sun and ending with twilight, encouraging us to watch for a nest of rabbits, a foamy spittlebug, a leaping grasshopper, bright milkweed, a quick fox, and a cruising hawk.

The Tree that Time Built organizes poems from various poets into an exploration of the trees and branches of Darwin’s tree. The main trunk is life, and the book is organized into sections covering birds to dinosaurs and everything in between. Classic works by Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, and the like, and selections from contemporary poets are included, as well as translated works.

“… high above
there is the Earth,
rushing oceans, racing clouds,
swaying fields and forests.
Family, friends, and strangers,
everyone you’ve ever known,
everyone you might–
the good and lonely Earth,
glowing in the sky.”

Writer’s Workshop: Art Journaling

Art Journaling has been a huge hit in our weekly Writer’s Workshop. An art journal is much like a diary. Anyone can make an art journal. The only difference is how you use it. You can use it like a diary every day, like a comic book of your life, things that happened to you, or just do sketches of interesting or memorable moments from your day or week.

In Writer’s Workshop, we have been using it as a means to express ourselves with words as well as with art. We create lists, include excerpts from books, and collages of words that have meaning to us as individuals. They become “art journals” when we add any kind of illustration or embellishment to the pages.

GIAmAs we were first getting started with art journaling a few weeks ago, I selected the prompt “A few things about yourself” as our first assignment for the new year.

I first asked the students to create a watercolor wash as the background. In the center, they were asked to write in bold lettering, “I Am”.  Thereafter they were instructed to glue down words they cut from a newspaper or magazine that they felt described them as individuals to create something of a collage. I love the artistic details of the page pictured above.

We don’t always have time during workshop to complete the art journal page. I thereby instruct them to finish them at home as homework.

Some students didn’t have access to print material that they could cut apart at home so they chose to write out descriptive words in pen. I just love how she has her words going around in a circle.


The kids have really enjoyed the art journaling lessons and writing explorations. Here are few of the lessons we have completed previously.

There are dozens of articles about artists’ journals and how to create and keep your own art journal. As I find ideas and inspiration, I pin them to a collaborative Pinterest board that Michelle Cannon recently started, Art Journaling. You will also find tips for success pinned here as well as links to mixed media journals and other useful supplies.

Follow Michelle Cannon’s board Art Journaling on Pinterest.

Writer’s Workshop: Heart Mapping

Sometimes coming up with topics and things to write about can be difficult. In Writer’s Workshop this month, we talked about where our writing ideas come from.

When you put your thoughts, feelings, and ideas on paper you are opening yourself up to whoever reads your writing. You are letting readers see into your heart. That is where a lot of your ideas can come from – your heart. Real authors also use their hearts to help them decide what they want to write about as well. Authors think about special people, places, and things that are close to their hearts to help them write their own stories.
A heart map is a visual representation of your heart, displaying topics that live there; these topics are ones we show passion for and find interesting if we are reading or writing about them.

Your heart map is for you, to help you discover your inner vision and your own unique voice that derives from your unique experiences and passions.

Begin by asking students to think about the things and people that are important to them. Go around the circle and allow each student to share one thing that is in their heart – one thing that is special or important to them.

Share samples of student heart mapping you’ve found online or demonstrate the process of creating your own heart map.

Use these guiding questions to help students uncover what is in their heart. The questions are to help students think about what is important to them and what they may want to include.

  • What has stayed in your heart?
  • What has really affected your heart?
  • What people have been important to you? Are they friends, siblings, parents, grandparents, teachers, and other people?
  • What are some experiences or central events that you will never forget?
  • What special moments stand out to you?
  • What happy or sad memories do you have?
  • What secrets have you kept in your heart?
  • What small things or objects are important to you – a tree in your backyard, a trophy, a stuffed animal… ?
  • What places, books, fears, scars, journeys, dreams, relationships, animals, comforts, and learning experiences do you hold in your heart?
  • Should some things be outside of the heart and some inside of it?
  • Do you want to draw more than one heart – good and bad; happy and sad; secret and open – and include different things inside each heart?
  • Do different colors represent different emotions, events, relationships?
  • What’s at the center of your heart? around the edges?

heartmapjOnce you have considered these questions, encourage students to begin their own heart map.  They may wish to draw a rough draft and then a final copy into their art journal after they have made any revisions.

Draw a large heart on your paper. In the center of your heart, place the most important person, place, or thing. Then, work your way out using specific words in each section. Verbalize each section as you’re placing it on your map (e.g., “My brother and I go to heritage camp in the summer. I’m going to write ‘Heritage Camp’ in my heart since I have so many memories of camp.”)

Tips: Take your time – possibly taking a break to give your long-term memory time to do its work. Do not worry too much about the illustrations, but do take care with the contents of your heart, filling your heart map with as much personal meaning as you can.

Encourage students to color in sections of their heart (e.g., they might want to color code it: purple for people, green for places, blue for things, yellow for ideas) once they’ve filled in all of the sections.

When a student runs out of ideas for his next story, he can re-visit his heart map to find an appropriate topic. The heart map has become the single best idea I’ve ever seen for keeping students from saying, “I don’t know what to write about.”

Writer’s Workshop: Blackout Poetry

In the month of November, we read Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief for book club.  When we gathered for Writer’s Workshop, I gave each student a Percy Jackson word search puzzle. For about 2 to 3 minutes, they were allowed to find as many words as possible. This was a great segue to our lesson on Blackout Poetry.
Blackout poetry focuses on rearranging words to create a different meaning. Also known as newspaper blackout poetry, the author uses a permanent marker to cross out or eliminate whatever words or images she sees as unnecessary or irrelevant to the effect she’s seeking to create. The central idea is to devise a completely new text from previously published words and images, which the reader is free to interpret as desired.

Austin Kleon is the person who is credited with first creating this process. He has even published a best selling book with these types of poems, Newspaper Blackout.
When you are starting out with black out poetry do not read the article as you normally would. Look at the words as raw material. See the words as tools to be manipulated. You may toggle between two articles or remain within one. Your creation does not have to relate to the original article in anyway. You should take the authors words and twist them in to your very own creation. You are making fiction out of nonfiction.

Tip: Do not linger over one article for too long. If an article does not spark inspiration MOVE ON!

The kids had a great time creating their own black out poems.  My daughter has even dedicated a book with which to use specifically for this style of writing.

Have you explored this style of poetry yourself or with your children? Share your work in the comments!

So Many Festivals in One Day!

Every nineteen years, we can celebrate three events on February 14th – Valentine’s Day, Lantern Festival (the last day of Chinese New Year), and Oregon’s birthday.

valentines day and lantern festival

Valentines Day

We gathered with a group of homeschooling families to celebrate Valentines Day .. more than 50 homeschooled children exchanged Valentines Day cards!  What a treat!

Lantern Festival

On this day, the celebration food is glutinous rice sweet dumpling, also known as yuán xiāo [元宵]. We were delighted to enjoy this traditional treat this week with our Mandarin teacher – accompanied by a warm glass of milk tea prior to our lesson.

Oregon’s Birthday

Privately, we honored our beloved home state with a little poetry … Oregon became the 33rd state on February 14, 1859.

Rockaway Oregon

by  Leanne Grabel

Seaguls gather like an audience.

They’ve seen the show a thousand times

and they show it.

Meek mountains lumber

in the background

hoping for a moment

to hide behind a mist

and sleep.

Seaweed teases a billion fleas.

Submitted to the All About Love Collage Friday edition at Homegrown Learners.