Environmental Inquiry in Action: Our Tree Timeline

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

 "We need a fundamental shift in the way we think and behave, a shift made possible by a fundamentally different approach to teaching and learning: Education that nurtures children's innate curiosity about the natural world, that fosters their understanding of the interconnectedness of all living and non-living things, and instils in them an abiding sense of care and responsibility for the well-being of their communities and planet Earth."
- David Orr (Ecologist & Scholar)

Over the course of the year, my DECE and I have been intrigued by the notion of making the classroom environment a third teacher and we thought there's no better way to do that then by bringing the outdoors inside. What started as a Nature Walk at the beginning of the school year has now lead to ongoing student wonderings, explorations, and most importantly a desire to care for and respect our environment. While our students chose to focus on one particular tree in our school yard (that they could see through one of our windows), they have come to a fundamental understanding and natural curiousity at this point in the year that they can make a difference.

Our Tree Timeline documents our class' learning journey in the hallway outside of our classroom and truly tells a story from September until June. It highlights key findings, questions, observations, and student engagement in the inquiry process. To provide you with a few examples of this natural curiousity, below are some of our students' wonderings throughout the year:

"How does a tree grow?" - A.J.
"Does a tree die when it turns 100 like us?" - A.D.
"Why does a tree stand straight?" - L.D.
"Why and how do the leaves change colour?" - D.M. 
"I wonder how the colour of the tree gets brown and then how the branches get brown too?" - L.D.
"How do the rings in the tree get bigger and bigger? Do the trees then have birthdays?" - I.D.
"Why do the needles fall off?" - A.L.

To incorporate art into our inquiry, our class completed bark and leaf rubbings, leaf printing, and stem printing. The learning experiences were completed by using natural materials that students collected from outside on our many Nature Walks. The belief of using natural materials in the classroom is from the Reggio-Emilia approach towards teaching and learning and we have found a profound shift in interest, engagement, and overall learning in our students with this approach.

Take a look at our environmental inquiry in action and we hope you feel inspired!


  1. Hi I love your learning journey, its given me some really great ideas. i am from Perth australia and love the natural outdoors and inquiry base learning. Rosie

  2. Hi Rosie,
    Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and for your comment! I'm so glad we have been able to inspire you and from all the way in Australia! Wow!
    The natural outdoors are certainly a canvas for learning and support the inquiry process perfectly!
    Always enjoy reading comments so thanks again for visiting!

  3. Ms Schmidt,
    You are a wonderful teacher and I love reading your blog to learn about what the children are learning! I love the Reggio-Emilia approach that you have incorporated into your classroom. My son is very fortunate to have you and Ms. Theis guide him through his learning journey!

    1. Hi Julie,
      Thank you so much for the kind words and for taking the time to read and follow my blog! We are thrilled to hear that you find it useful to stay informed about what our class is learning about and exploring! The Reggio-Emilia approach is certainly one we continue to feel intrigued by and we continue to integrate more of the philosophy into our program daily! We hope you continue to feel inspired and we truly look forward to being a part of your son's learning journey! He's wonderful!
      Jocelyn (Ms. Schmidt)


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