Make a Maple Friend
Learning to identify leaves is no different than identifying Thomas the Train characters, Matchbox cars, or Barbie and all of her friends. Children are whizzes at this stuff. They recognize details and crave order and category, so what better way to appease that and ditch the toy aisle and teach them something practical.
Native Americans and other children of pre-Wii cultures could identify trees at an early age. Their jobs required it. What was the best firewood to collect? Which twigs made the best cooking utensils? Building supports? Weapons? It was a way of life for them. Happily we don't need to send our kids out foraging in the woods to stay warm and survive, but that doesn't mean that learning trees and leaves isn't a great learning exercise.
'Cause it is.
Start simple, start young. My older children, still in school, can readily ID a maple tree, so I'm taking this chance to teach my youngest about the trees in our backyard.
Find a Maple Friend
Maple trees are pretty much everywhere around our part of the world, and are among the easiest to recognize. To make it easier for small children, you can point out that the maple tree has leaves shaped just like your hand.
From an ID standpoint, they have five pointed parts to each leaf which nicely equals the amount of fingers and is also a super fun number to count to.
For this activity, you need only a maple tree, pens or crayons, paper, and the hand of a wondrous child.
Start by taking a walk around the tree. This works really well in the springtime because there are leaves of various sizes at easy reach. Collect a few (all in the name of good science, I say) and bring them back to your work space. Carefully trace around them, ignoring the small serrations and exaggerating the five points.
Then line up the child's hand over the trace of the leaf. Trace around the hand, stretching out to match the leaf as much as possible. Count to five, touching each point and finger.
When they magically match up, the leaf and the hand, in size and number of points/fingers, your child has found her very own Maple Friend! Such love, such love...
Finish up the activity with some pancakes smothered in maple syrup, although explaining that the syrup came from a hole that was drilled in the new friend to drain out the inner liquid might not go over so well...