watercolor paint
black tempera or acrylic paint
thin paint brushes (better quality brushes if available)
sponge pieces (optional)


One problem with art projects is that kids can get easily discouraged if their product doesn’t turn out the way they thought it would.  A few years ago I discovered that having kids practice a few elements of a project before taking on the “real” one reduces frustration and improves the final products.  
On scratch paper, have kids practice using light pressure, medium pressure, and heavy pressure with their paint brushes and black paint.  Then have them practice painting lines that start with heavy pressure and gradually end with light pressure.  Lines like these will make up the branches of the tree.
Have your students practice painting a tree (it helps if you demonstrate these steps).  It doesn’t matter if they “mess up.”  This is a great chance for them to figure out what they want to keep or to change on their final product.
Start by painting a trunk.  Add in the ground (it can be slanted, hilly, or flat).  Since this is just practice, the ground doesn’t need to go all the way to the bottom of the page.  For the branches, start at the trunk with a heavy pressure line.  As the brush moves away from the trunk use lighter and lighter pressure.  The trick to painting branches that look realistic is they always get smaller/thinner toward the tips.  If you want to add leaves, dip a sponge piece in a little bit of paint and gently dab it on the paper.  This takes some practice and a little paint goes a long way.
Just for practice!

Now For the Real Thing!

Here’s the fun part, creating the colorful background!  Start with a totally new piece of paper.  Using water color paints, paint horizontal stripes of color like those you would see in a sunset.  It’s ok for the colors to run together a little bit.

Let the background dry.

Switch to black tempera or acrylic paint and paint in the tree following the steps above (just like the practice page).

Ta-da!  Gorgeous!

Curriculum Connections

-artistic representation of parts of a plant
-response to literature about trees or sunsets
-discussing how the rotation of the Earth causes night/day, sunrises/sunsets
My kids did this project in response to this poem:
Trees Are the Kindest Things I Know by: Harry Behn
Trees are the kindest things I know,
They do no harm, they simply grow
And spread a shade for sleepy cows,
And gather birds among their boughs.
The are the first when day’s begun
To touch the beams of morning sun,
They are the last to hold the light
When evening changes into night.
And when the moon floats on the sky
They hum a drowsy lullaby,
 Of sleepy children long ago
Trees are the kindest things I know.
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Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun is a former teacher with 8 years of experience in the classroom and a master's degree in early childhood education. She designs engaging, organized classroom resources for 1st-3rd grade teachers.