Washington (GGM) Analysis |December 19, 2020 by Catherine Zacuto, M. Ed.
Wandering through a wooded park or along a shady path, it’s easy to miss what’s right before our eyes. How often do we consider the gifts before us, planted long ago? The cool breeze and fresh fragrance are momentary experiences that began with the planting of seeds. No matter how the trees, shrubs, and understory got there, whether through nature or a particular person, you and I are the beneficiaries.
Thomas Jefferson understood this. His legacy of Monticello lies not only in its Neoclassical architecture but in its lush landscape. As a matter of course, school children learn the importance of the Declaration of Independence. Yet how often are they given the opportunity to uncover Jefferson’s other significant gift, the carbon-fighting greenery flourishing at Monticello and Jefferson’s beloved University of Virginia? His plans for Monticello included vegetable gardens, a vineyard, two orchards, and an 18-acre ornamental forest. Trees planted as early as the mid-19th Century still adorn the Academical Village at UVA. This life-giving vegetation continues to fight the greenhouse gasses humans add to the environment. Jefferson and other forward-thinking botanists gave us gifts centuries before we recognized them. We can pass on their legacy by teaching our children about the gift of trees – what we have received and how we can give.
Benefits of Trees
- Trees clean the air by trapping particulates on their leaves and branches.
- Trees help prevent water pollution by collecting rainwater on their bark and leaves and depositing it in the ground below.
- Trees provide economic opportunities for small businesses that provide food to local markets.
- Exposure to trees helps relieve mental fatigue.
Jefferson’s story and his gardens offer valuable lessons for young people. Planting a tree, caring for a sapling, waiting for growth all require patience and hard work. What better way to learn these important life skills? Planting trees with children engages them physically and gives them purposeful time outdoors. Watching and waiting for the first green sign of life teaches youngsters that growth takes time, just like their own development. The tree will need nurturing and thoughtful care including some hands on, “Let’s get messy” work. To generate interest in tree planting, you can begin with age-appropriate literature about trees and their care. Adolescents may be energized to learn about the difference trees make in the fight against global warming, or they may want to plant their tree to support a friend going through a difficult time. So, take a moment to enjoy a refreshing breeze and appreciate the clean scent of a forest. Then make a plan for the gift you will give, a gift someone is waiting for.
Ways to Give Back
- Plant a tree or shrub in your yard (and post a photo on social media)
- Add Virginia Creeper to cover a fence
- Learn more about trees and spread the word
Resources for Parents
Can You Hear the Trees Talking? by Peter Wohlleben (ages 8-10)
Seeds and Trees: A children’s book about the power of words by Brandon Walden (ages 6-12)
The Tree Book for Kids and Their Grown-Ups by Gina Ingoglia (ages 8-12)
Informative video for parents and kids: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abVvZLyZAIg
Tree Activities for Kids: https://www.fantasticfunandlearning.com/tree-activities-for-kids.html
Benefits of trees: https://canopy.org/tree-info/benefits-of-trees/urban-trees-and-climate-change/,
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