“Although I grew up being exposed to nature a lot, I’ve always been told that I shouldn’t touch, smell or even get too close to things we aren’t familiar with. The experience in the Arboretum has brought my curiosity for nature back…”

Megan, Boston University student

“These trips have opened my eyes to all of the activities I can do with young children to expose them to science. It has proved to me that science is not and does not have to be a huge production – it is part of life and happens all around us.”

Amanda, Boston University student
Prof. Nermeen Dashoush, left, and BU students talk about change over time.
Students examining how deep the snow is
Students squishing juicy dogwood fruit
Students use their feet to sense horse chestnut seeds under the leaves.
Cutting open a horse chestnut terminal bud
Students discover the furry and layered insides of leaf buds.
BU students observing witch hazel
BU students observe and sketch various invertebrates.
Isopods on bark
Earthworms and heat
Black soldier fly pupa
Black soldier fly

For the past 6 years, educators at the Arnold Arboretum have contributed to the science training of undergraduate and graduate students in Boston University’s Early Childhood Education program through a course titled Curriculum and Practicum in Early Childhood: Kindergarten. Currently taught by Dr. Nermeen Dashoush and Professor Jan Nagler, the course includes a focus on teaching science to young children, both in terms of content and pedagogy.

BU students come to the Arboretum twice each semester—September/November in fall or February/April in spring—to immerse themselves in the rhythms and patterns of nature and consider the concept of change over time. For many, this is not only their first experience of our landscape, but also their first experience truly interacting with trees and the environment. In our outdoor classroom, students engage in a series of small explorations using their senses. They listen to the wind gusting through trees, rub leaves together for sound, and crinkle them to orchestrate music. They squish juicy fruits to discover the pulp and seeds inside, and release their pleasant citrus smell or pungent turpentine-like odor. Their feet discover the presence of hard, bumpy horse chestnut seeds hidden among the leaves. They look closely to examine the various layers found within a leaf bud, or the arrangement of tulip tree seeds in their pod. They marvel at seeing a flowering witch hazel in winter, and trace the shadows cast by the sinuous branches of the cork tree.

Students are constantly asked to make predictions (“What do you expect to see?” or “What will happen when…?”), and then asked to test them out immediately to find amazing surprises! Throughout the class, students experience the wind, sun, soil, water, and animal activity in the landscape. They consider this space and how it feels, and then later, compare how the space and feelings have changed over time. Many open-ended questions are posed during the session to encourage a sense of wonder and elicit curiosity. This gives students a chance to imagine and create teachable moments that can help children find the answers; or at the very least, come up with more questions to investigate!

Following their outdoor exploration, students continue their observations indoors. Using a bin containing soil, plant material, and various invertebrates, student have opportunities to observe, draw, make connections and comparisons, experiment, refer to reference materials, converse, and reflect upon what they are seeing. These activities can prove incredibly effective in offering new insights and a deeper appreciation for the natural world. Teachers in training gain a great deal experiencing these investigations for themselves, often becoming strong advocates for scientific learning in the outdoors in their schools and classrooms. Young children need many repeated opportunities to be outside to play, question, imagine, discover, and make sense of how nature operates and changes over time.

“The visits help me to see the types of natural science lessons I can implement with the children. It really helped me to see how you can take a lesson and bring it one step further with first-hand experiences in nature.” Sarah, Boston University student “Visits like these not only can enrich children’s scientific knowledge, but also their literacy and math skills.” Win, Boston University student

Collaborations between the Arnold Arboretum and Boston University School of Education are part of our mission of educating the next generation of scientists. Teachers can help children instill values of stewardship and agency in caring for the natural world. The best part: it’s free!

“Nature exploration is often free. Most cities and town have public parks. These visits provide a reminder to take advantage of these resources more frequently. Visits to sites like the Arboretum provide a budget-friendly way to incorporate more science education into your school year.”

H  Wen, Boston University student

From “free” to “friend”…

Established in 1911 as the Bulletin of Popular Information, Arnoldia has long been a definitive forum for conversations about temperate woody plants and their landscapes. In 2022, we rolled out a new vision for the magazine as a vigorous forum for tales of plant exploration, behind-the-scenes glimpses of botanical research, and deep dives into the history of gardens, landscapes, and science. The new Arnoldia includes poetry, visual art, and literary essays, following the human imagination wherever it entangles with trees.

It takes resources to gather and nurture these new voices, and we depend on the support of our member-subscribers to make it possible. But membership means more: by becoming a member of the Arnold Arboretum, you help to keep our collection vibrant and our research and educational mission active. Through the pages of Arnoldia, you can take part in the life of this free-to-all landscape whether you live next door or an ocean away.

For more tree-entangled art, science, and writing, subscribe to Arnoldia by becoming a member of the Arnold Arboretum.