Kids and Trees: Five Trees Every Kid Should Know

As a person who loved tent camping as a child and young adult, I firmly believe every kid needs nature.

When my kids were small, I made it a point to take them on nature walks as often as possible. We enjoyed long hikes in the woods.

I wanted to instill a love of nature in my kids and trees were one way that I did that. After all, getting out in nature is one of the best ways for how to teach kids about plants. There are many other ways, too.


Kids and Trees - 5 Trees Every Kid Should Know


But, one of the obstacles of nature study that I hear a lot is not knowing what the names of all the trees and plants are. While this is a legitimate complaint, it’s almost impossible to know all the plants you might encounter. After all, there are more than 1,000 tree species in the United States alone. And that’s just trees. That doesn’t include plant species.

So, instead, let’s start with kids and trees they can easily find.

Kids and Trees They Need to Know About

Maple Trees

maple leaf
This is a maple leaf. Notice the three major lobes.

One of the most common trees in any neighborhood or forest is the maple tree. Their leaves are fairly distinct and often turn a beautiful red in the fall. So, when kids rake all the leaves together and jump in the pile, they are very likely jumping into a pile of maple leaves.

Maple trees grow in a variety of climates and soil conditions. They also live a long time and grow several stories tall. So, it’s no wonder city planners like these trees.

Another good reason kids and trees of the maple species should get acquainted is, of course, maple syrup. Certain varieties of maple trees provide this delicious and nutritious treat.


Oak Trees

This is an oak leaf. Notice the wave-like lobes on either side of the center ridge.

Oak trees rule the forest, not so much the neighborhood. Because they require larger amounts of water, they grow best in the protected soils of the woods.

Like maple trees, oaks live long lives. Very often, they live even longer than maples, surviving more than 200 years. Oak trees are important sources of wood and food, and also have medicinal qualities.


Gingko Trees

This is a Gingko leaf. Notice the fan shape.

Ah, yes, the famous gingko tree, the one whose leaves are good for increasing blood flow to the brain! This tree is also popular in city landscapes because it helps filter the air.

It, like the maple, is very tolerant of a variety of soil, air, and water conditions. However, unlike the maple and the oak, it doesn’t grow super tall. It’s perfect for the urban environment where a touch of green is wanted to spruce up a small space.

Kids and trees of this type can form a special bond since this tree makes city living more fun with its little fan-shaped leaves, its bright yellow fall burst of color, and adding green to a sea of pavement.


Willow Trees

This is a weeping willow hanging over a pond. Notice the long flexible branches with small, lance-shaped leaves.

Unlike the oak and maple, willow trees are not so long living. They’re lucky to live 70 years. They also tend to be shorter trees living near ponds, lakes, and rivers.

Many kids and trees of this type have a relationship of swinging on the low-hanging branches. My kids loved doing this. They enjoyed testing their ability to get back to shore before they couldn’t hold on any longer and fell in the water. A couple of times, one of my sons did fall in!

These trees can cause problems for underground pipes, but they are a source of aspirin and of drawing charcoal.


Sassafras Trees

These are two of the three types of leaves found on one Sassafras tree. Not pictured is the mitten-shaped leaf.

Last, but not least, every kid should know about sassafras. These trees are also smaller than oaks and maples but are as hardy as maples and gingkos. Personally, I find them to be weedy trees that grow almost anywhere, including between fences.

These trees are fun to get to know because of their unusual leaves. How many trees do you know of having three different leaf shapes on the same tree? Well, sassafras does. These shapes are the football, the mitten, and the glove.

Historically, sassafras was used for medicinal purposes as well as being an ingredient in root beer. Today, the government has banned the use of sassafras in root beer because it contains safrole, a carcinogen. Even so, it’s fun to find a bit of history and an unusual tree.


Kids and Trees

Use the photos above to get your kids and the trees of the neighborhood and forest together. After all, botany is the key to the future.



Julie Polanco

About the author

Julie is an author, speaker, podcaster, blogger, and a 20-year veteran homeschooling mom of four--2 boys and 2 girls. When she's not doing any of those things, you might find her skimming her fingers over the surface of Lake Michigan as she glides along in her kayak, singing at the top of her lungs.

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  1. I love this – thanks so much for sharing.

    I was so good at teaching my first "cohort" of children about this stuff. I remember pulling out scrap pieces of paper at restaurants and drawing leaves on them to have my children identify while we waited for our food, and they actually got pretty good at it. But for some reason, I've dropped the ball with my younger kids.

    Thanks for inspiring me to try it again!

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