Trees are family

Investigating through drawing


by Preschools and Infant-toddler centres – Istituzione of the Municipality Reggio Emilia, and Reggio Children


Trees have developed an intelligent way of living that means even though they always stand still they can feed, reproduce, communicate with each other, defend themselves, and even play together.

At this very particular time in everyone’s life trees can teach us about the importance of being intelligent and having ways of doing things that are different to those we usually use.

“Living beings” was a subject we were investigating, through drawing, in a project at the beginning of the school year in Reggio Emilia’s Municipal Infant-toddler Centres and Preschools. 

Trees were chosen because they are such an vital presence and represent life on Earth, part of our family of living beings, brothers and sisters we must get to know and respect.

Drawing can facilitate knowledge, because drawing is a “language” that supports our observations, curiosity and empathy, all elements that invite us to “see” things more carefully and get to know what is other than ourselves.

Some of the initial material from this project in infant-toddler centres and preschools has been collected and put together in a video. It is a testament and confirmation of children’s abilities and creativity.


Please click the cc button/key to activate the English subtitles


We’re proposing some suggestions for work, inviting adults to provide the practical support with materials, but not to intervene in the children’s drawings.

We’d like to give them the freedom to investigate how trees are structured and organised, not only the formal structure, but trees as an incredibly interesting life form that we would like to understand more deeply. Too often we give children models to copy that are conventional, pre-conceived stereotypes, that do nothing to support their intelligence and creativity.

albero finito con animali virginia low

Trees have wrinkles that make them more interesting. , Virginia, 5 years


Choosing your tree and observing it

> Find a tree you can see (close up or outside a window) and that you think is interesting. If you can’t see any trees nearby, look for some photographs of trees, and if you can’t find any photographs use your imagination to see the tree.

>   If it’s possible, touch the tree, feel the bark on the tree trunk, smell it, look at the branches, and watch how they move in the air, see the differences between them, look up and see what the  branches of the tree look like against the sky.

>  If the tree has leaves touch them and look at them very carefully, you can take one (but only one) to have as a model while you’re drawing.

>  If the tree you have chosen is about to come into flower or has already flowered, look at the flowers and discover how they are all different: some are ready to blossom, some have come out, others are already losing some of their petals. Can you touch them? Do they have a perfume? If you can reach, take two or three flowers to use as models, so you can remember them all well.

> If the tree you have chosen is nearby, walk around it and take some photographs with a mobile phone. If the tree is in your imagination, walk around it in your imagination, stop and think about the branches, and the leaves, and the flowers.

Imagine you are a bird and can see the tree from up high. It is important for our minds to get used to moving through space and to see the same thing from more than one point of view, even when we’re only going to make one drawing.


Making the drawing

Look for a sheet of paper, quite a large one of possible (like an A3 size, 30x42 cm). Using a pencil, or felt-tip pens, or coloured pencils or crayons, draw a tree. The drawing can be black and white, or in colour, whichever you prefer.

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. The important thing is that while you’re drawing you always think of the tree as your friend.

Colori corr 1


> When you have drawn all the parts of the tree that you can see, that are visible in the air, carry on imagining what else there might be that you can’t see and that is under the ground:

What are the roots like for example?

What does the tree do with its roots?

What other things might there be underground and that have a connection with the tree?


albero finito Luca radici


Now our imagination lets us see whatever we want, because with drawing we can shape new worlds.

 > If it’s sunny outside the tree’s shadow will be there. Shadows are always fascinating things. Is the shape of the shadow exactly the same as the tree or a bit different? Is it bigger, or smaller? Try and see if you can find the shadow and look at it, or try and imagine the shadow, and then if you like you can draw it.

And of course you can draw other things directly connected with trees: the sun, the rain, the air, the wind, animals; everything you think might be interesting for the tree.


You can do your drawing all in one day or if you prefer you can go back to it after a while or the day after.

You can make one tree or lots of trees.

When you have finished put your drawing in one of your windows, facing out so people can see it from outside. The more children participate, the more trees will appear in the windows of your houses and soon, little by little, your neighbourhood and the whole town will start to look like a green forest.






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