by Kornelia Eppmann


Felix (4;0) has an extensive knowledge of natural history topics for his age.
He told us about a visit to his grandparents. He was with them in the forest and they discovered a huge anthill there. Felix: „The ants had a long way to go before their mound“. He observed: „The ants carried away a dead beetle that was bigger than they were“. My grandpa said: „The ants are the forest police and clean up“.

On walks in in the vicinity of the kindergarten, Felix makes many discoveries in nature, like animal tracks in the field. „I bet those are from a rabbit and, look, that one is from a bird.“

In my opinion, Felix has good perception and can quickly grasp logical relationships for his age.
He wants to understand complex processes in nature. He is constantly asking questions and questioning in order to quench his thirst for knowledge and to get explanations.

I want to pick up on his interest. Soon there is a starting point for this.

The conversation

In a discussion round in which the children can tell what they experienced at the weekend, Felix (4;0) again tells about a visit to his grandparents. He reports that grandpa talked to Schorsch (the neighbour) about the fact that many trees in the forest are dead.

Felix: „If the trees are dead, they won’t give us any oxygen, which we need to breathe! Have they cut down all the trees, or what?“

My question: „Do you know what dead is?“

Felix: „Yes, my other grandfather was very ill, he had to go to hospital and then he died. Now he’s at the cemetery. Sometimes we visit him and put flowers there.“

The other children then also talk about dead animals and people they knew who had died. We talk about how all plants, animals and people have to die one day.

I ask the children if they have ever looked closely at the trees and plants outside. „Yes“, came the answer, „they have green leaves in summer and we always climb up the thick walnut tree, that’s fun“.

„What might a dead tree look like?“ I asked.

One of the children says, „Maybe it has no leaves or looks black.“ I shrug my shoulders, „I can’t really tell either. It’s winter now, look out of the window! Can you see what the tree in front of our group looks like?“

Felix: „It doesn’t have any leaves, but it has little balls hanging from it.“ (It’s a plane tree.)

„What do you mean?“ I ask.
Felix: „But it doesn’t look black, I don’t know.“

„Can you eat the little balls?“ I ask the group. „No,“ replies one of the older children, „there are seeds in them and when they fall down, the wind spreads them outside and new trees can grow from them. Sometimes birds sit on them and eat the seeds.“

Now I ask: „Who could we ask about what a dead tree looks like? Who knows about trees?“

„Maybe my grandpa, he’s a forester and a hunter,“ one of the children speaks up. (A stroke of luck, then I don’t have to spend a long time looking for an expert).

„That’s a good idea, can you ask him to come to our kindergarten?“

The walk in the forest

Yes, shortly we arranged to go for a walk in the forest with grandpa. In a small deciduous forest, the children could look at the individual trees – especially well now in winter.

„What can you see on the trees when you look through the forest?“ asked the forester.
Felix: „They don’t have any leaves, one is standing all crooked.“
The forester: „Why don’t they have any leaves?“
Felix: „Because it’s winter.“
The forester: „That’s right; because in winter the trees rest, they keep something like hibernation.“
Felix: „Just like the squirrels, they hibernate too.“
The forester: „Yes, right.“

The forester: „Why do you think the tree might be crooked?“
Felix: „Maybe it was the wind – or someone pushed it over.“

We went to a tree lying on the ground, the forester cleared it of snow at one point and asked the children to take a good look. He had brought a freshly sawn-off small branch for comparison.

Felix asked, „Why did you saw it off?“
The forester: „Sometimes you have to saw off branches of trees because they grow over a path, you can’t walk past then. But it doesn’t harm the tree.“
„My dad also cuts down the hedge sometimes, and it grows new again,“ Felix remarked.

The forester: „What can you see?“
Felix: „That one has round circles and the other one looks so funny, it has little holes.“
The forester: „The round circles are called annual rings, that’s how you can see how old the tree is. Can you count the rings?“

They counted. Felix asked, „Do people also have rings on the inside?“
„No,“ the forester explained, „people only grow up to a certain age, then they don’t grow any more and celebrate their birthday every year; that’s how they know how old they are.

The forester: „The other tree has become rotten, that’s why it has small holes, it was sick and could no longer absorb enough nutrients from the soil.
Felix: „What is ‚absorb'“?
The forester: „Plants take up their food and water through the roots that grow in the soil.“

Felix: „Where are the roots of the tree now“?
The forester: „They’re still stuck here in the ground and rotting.“
„Eww, rotting stinks!“ says Felix, „Mum once had a lettuce that was rotten. Phew, that was disgusting!“

The forester: „Yes, when something rots, it usually doesn’t smell so good. But eventually it turns back into new soil, which is called humus.“

Felix: „When I’m sick, my mum takes me to the doctor and I have to take medicine to get better. Is there medicine for trees?“
„Unfortunately, no,“ answers the forester.

Felix, at his young age, already knows how to gain knowledge by asking questions and asking more questions.

„Do you know how people eat food?“ asks the forester.
„Well, here!“ Felix points to his mouth, „with one´s mouth.“
The forester: „Yes, and if we can’t eat or drink anything because we are sick, what happens then?“
Felix: „Then we die of thirst and starvation. I’ve had to vomit before and mum told me to drink, otherwise you’ll die of dehydration.“
The forester: „That’s exactly what happened to this tree, it dried up and therefore died, then broke off. The wood decays, you can break it off with your hand.“ There is a loud cracking sound.

he children try to break two small branches themselves and find that the freshly sawn branch does not break properly, the dry branch was easier to break and cracked louder.

Felix: „Is the tree going to the cemetery now?“
The forester: „No, there are still lots of small animals living in the tree now, which still find food here and live in it.“
Felix: „Even ants?“
The forester: „Yes.“
Felix: „Can you see them too?“
The forester: „No, not in winter, they hide away because it’s so cold. They only come out again in spring. At some point the remains of the tree will have turned into new earth, but that takes a long time.“

We said goodbye and thanked him and later, in spring, we wanted to meet the forester again in the forest to look for the dead tree. The children, especially Felix, had lots of other questions. They gave rise to further visits to the forest with the ranger.

In the days after our first meeting, I could see that Felix was continuing to deal with the topic.
He found similarities in our plants in the kindergarten and in the outdoor area: withered flowers, cracking sticks that had been cut off in autumn, he discovered a small mouse on our composter.

Course leader’s comment:
This is typical of particularly gifted children: they keep at it. From each answer they develop new questions and deepen what they have learned – if they have the opportunity and someone is as interested and clever in answering their questions as this forester…

He likes to look at the book „Animals at Night in the Forest“ and finds many interesting things in it that arouse his curiosity and raise new questions.

I heard him ask another child in the group, „Have you ever seen a dead tree?“ „Nope,“ said the child. Felix: „In spring we’ll go to the forest again, then I’ll show it to you, won’t I?“

Comment from the course leader:
At just four years old, he already thinks in big time frames.

At the painting table we reflected once again on our visit to the forest. The children had gathered lots of new experiences and thought the forester was clever because he could tell us a lot about the forest. Some children drew pictures about it.

Read more about Felix here:
Experiment „Vulcano“ and
Felix and His Photography


Date of publication in German: February 2015
Copyright © Kornelia Eppmann, see Imprint