Counting tree rings

A few weeks ago, we went on holiday to Center Parcs. Whilst we spent a lot of time in the swimming pool, we also watched the local wildlife, including a deer, from our lodge windows and explored the forest. My youngest started to use words for 'bird' and 'squirrel', and my eldest enjoyed jumping in dry leaves, carrying around fallen tree branches and balancing on logs.  We talked about lots of the interesting things we saw and found, but one new thing he learnt was about tree rings.

Each year of growth gives a tree trunk or branch an extra layer which looks like a ring/circle when it's cut across, with a light part of the ring representing growth in the Spring/Summer and the dark part representing slower growth later in the year. We had a go at counting the tree rings to find out how old trees had been before they had been cut down or fallen, and we counted one that was over 40 years old. Due to recent high winds there were lots of branches on the ground which were slightly torn along their length and harder to count than those which were cut, but we could still see two, three or four years of growth.

Counting tree rings in Elveden Forest

My son seemed surprised to find you could tell how old a tree was like this, and had a good look at several logs and stumps as well as the twigs we found. We also talked a bit about wood, and how we use it.  He'd already realised that wood comes from trees, but when we had a look at the long pieces of wood on the outside of the lodge we stayed in, he didn't know what the knots were.  I explained that these were where the tree branches had been, and he's since pointed these out on other pieces of wood we've seen.  We also spotted tree rings in lots of wood in fences and play equipment around Center Parcs, and I think it helped him think a bit about the connection between trees and how he sees wood being used in things like furniture and toys.

Freshly sawn trees with clear rings to count

When we went to High Lodge in Thetford Forest on the way home, there were lots of freshly cut trees as they had recently sawn those that had fallen in the storm.  We had a look at some of them too and counted quite a few, making sure we didn't count the bark as a ring - it's the number of dark circles inside this that gives you the age of the tree.

Wooden fence with tree rings and the grain of the wood visible

This was a very simple activity to add to our outdoor exploration, and we mostly spent time running around, spotting wildlife and generally enjoying not being in a city, with the occasional pause to count when we saw a suitable fallen tree.  He's quite a fan of counting things at the moment anyway, and this gave a purpose to counting to find out how old the tree had been.  I also drew some pretend tree rings on the blackboard in our lodge in the evenings and he seemed to find counting those fun too!