TEACHABLE MOMENTS: Trees in a storm

Tommy Fairweather
Tommy Fairweather

For years as a school teacher, I told a story about trees in a storm. I drew a picture on the chalkboard while I narrated the story. The purpose of telling the story to elementary age children was to help them realize they were responsible for much of their own development and that parents and teachers were there to guide them. However, the children had to do the work.

The story begins when two seeds are planted in the soil. Each of the seeds produces a tap root from which the tree begins to sprout. In the beginning the drawings of the two trees were the same. I explained to the children that their brains are like the trees because they are growing dendrites. The difference is that trees grow roots in the soil while the brains of the children grow “roots” in their heads.

I drew a second root on one tree that went deep into the soil and labeled it “reading.” On a second tree I drew a much smaller root, also labeling it “reading,” and stated “the more you read, the longer and stronger the root becomes.” The second tree did not have a strong root because not as much time and effort had been spent reading.

I continued drawing roots, asking the children what activities they were involved in outside of school. Also, I drew branches and leaves on the trees. The first tree had lots of branches because it had lots of roots. The roots on the first tree were labeled art activities, sport activities, games, imaginative play, drama, scouting, church activities, dance activities, music activities, writing activities, puzzle play, nature activities, making collections, science activities and other specific academic activities such as History Team.  There was also a root for screen time activities, which included TV, computer and video games.

The weak tree had only one root beside the short tap root identified as “reading.” The second root was labeled “screen time.” I made the tree look pitiful by not adding many branches above ground.

Once I finished drawing the two trees, I explained the reason trees have roots. In addition to gaining food and water, the roots hold the trees in the ground when storms come. I asked which tree would best survive a hurricane. The answer is that the tree with the most roots would hold the tree to the ground.

Next, I asked if they thought there were storms in life besides the ones with rain/snow, thunder, or lightning. The students understood that the storms were metaphors for life’s problems. I explained that each child was responsible for developing his or her roots. Parents and teachers can provide the environment, but the child has to do the work. Most of the children understood and began to tell me which roots they were developing. Over time these young people turned their explorations into hobbies, passions and careers.

As a parent you can tell this story to your own child asking the child what roots he/she is already developing.  Then ask what other roots they might like to add. When my own children signed up for an activity, I made them stick with it for one year. If they wanted to continue afterwards, fine. If not, I let them choose another activity.  

Researchers indicate elementary school years should be spent identifying interests while the teenage years provide time to identify passion for a specific interest. Have this conversation with your child and place the “tree” drawing in a prominent place as a reminder of how the child should spend time developing useful interests instead of wasting it on screen time. The American Pediatric Association suggests limits for children and teenagers of only one to two hours daily watching screens. The Association indicates children should be spending their time playing outdoors, reading, and on hobbies and imaginative play.

Tommy Fairweather is a retired Walton County teacher and educational consultant who lives in Destin.