Our Tree Identification Project: Resources for Identifying Trees with Kids

We’re taking on a project – to identify every tree in our backyard!  You can read about the project here and here.

Tree Identification with Kids via The Risky Kids

We had a map of the yard, we had gathered leaves and nuts, now all that was left to do was to figure out what, exactly, we had!

Elena and I sat down one afternoon to do some research. I’d checked out just about every book available from the library to help us identify our trees, so we leafed through them (pun totally intended) and tried our hand at identification. A few lessons learned:

We quickly figured out which books were more user-friendly than others. I’m guessing this is very much a personal preference, depending on how you like to go about the process. In the end we decided that The Sibley Guide to Trees and 101 Trees of Indiana: A Fieldguide by Marion T. Jackson were our favorites. The Sibley book is very detailed, but easy to navigate for both adults and older children. I also think it’s helpful to have a book specific to your geographic location as well. And Trees (A Golden Nature Guide)? Honestly I just liked the nostalgic feel of it. It did help us with the more common trees, though.

Field Guides for Trees

Fall may not be the best time of year for this kind of project. Because we started late, many of the trees had lost their leaves already. Many of the leaves are compromised, too. We plan to pick the project back up where we left off in the spring, as a key identifier of many trees are the buds and blossoms.

Don’t be surprised or discouraged if younger children aren’t interested in the actual identification process. Eli loved helping with the map and gathering leaves, but had no interest at all in identifying the trees. And honestly, it was challenging for Elena and I.

Beyond incorporating their help in the gathering process, there are other ways to involve younger children without frustrating them. Check the non-fiction section in your local library for books related to trees. Eli particularly enjoyed From Acorn to Oak Tree by Jan Kottke and I Can Name 50 Trees Today!: All About Trees (Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library). Consider leaf crafts or activities using nuts.  I plan to use these leaf identification cards next spring.

Kids' Books for Learning About Trees

In the spring and early summer I also plan to research the possibility of using apps or computer programs to help with the process.  I would also like to find a book or a good resource for teaching the best process for identifying trees.  Do you start taxonomically, like with birds?  Or do you do it by features, such as leaf type and shape?  Or does it even matter?

In the end, we were able to identify 8 of our 26 trees, so I’m very pleased. Are you curious to know what we have? Here you go:

  • 1 Northern Red Oak
  • 2 Elms
  • 1 Sugar Maple (should we try and tap it?!)
  • 1 Maple of unknown variety
  • 1 Dogwood
  • 1 Box Elder (and the annoying Box Elder beetles to go with it)
  • 1 Hickory

When it’s all said and done, I hope to have a nice map of our yard with every tree and bush identified. I think it would be lovely, and something I would pass on to future owners in the event we move. The trees are definitely something to be thankful for (although I’m not sure I would’ve been quite as grateful had you asked me last Sunday, after we raked and filled 38 bags with leaves!). We’ll shelve the project for now, and pick it up again in the spring. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for resources I’d love to hear them!



  1. […] do we love about our backyard? Well, the trees, for one. We have lots of trees that provide nice shade in the heat of the summer. We have a large […]