Do you regularly work away from home?
Do you or a family member have regular hospital stays away from the children?
Is there a special event coming up or a visit from Grandparents that your wild kids are excited about?
Are you a Forest School leader or a teacher counting down to the end of term or an upcoming field trip?
Are you a Wild Mummy sneaking a few days away for a wild adventure without the kids?
Or are you a military family with regular deployments abroad?
A Homecoming Tree has unlimited potential and gives your children something to focus on during these times. It’s fun and can get them outdoors too.
Find out in this simple tutorial how to create a nature-inspired memory calendar to help kids count the days.
(Forgive the photo quality throughout; all taken long before this blog was conceived of!)
What Is A Homecoming Tree?
Essentially it’s a fun ‘calendar’ ideal for temporary absences or special events, helping kids practice patience, learn about the passage of time and create a record of memories to share at a later date.
The child adds something to the tree each day in the run up to the ‘event’ and the more they collect from outdoors, the better!
Useful For Military Families & Forest School
Ours came into being when Wild Daddy worked abroad for 6 months, so military families might find this a useful and fun exercise.
Regular Medical Treatment Away From Home
I’ve been thinking about it lots as Caroline nears the end of her radiotherapy treatment in the US. She’s homesick and struggling with loss of appetite, mouth ulcers, mucositis and oral thrush (caused by the chemo and radiotherapy), making her tired and weak. She’s missing everything about home, especially our beloved Fidgie and is pretty fed up after 10 weeks in a hotel room and hospitals with mostly Mummy and Daddy for company!
We are all counting down the days.
How To Make A Homecoming Tree
You will need
OUTDOOR TREE: – a suitable tree with low branches that kids can reach
- Multi-coloured Ribbon
INDOOR TREE: –
- Paper in chosen size – we use Wallpaper lining paper for artwork. Two widths taped together worked well but it can be smaller depending on the duration of the wait
- Drawing Pins or Thumb tacks
What to do
- On your selected tree tie one ribbon or item for the number of days before the event/the parent is away
- The children remove an item each day
- When the branches are empty the event occurs!
- On the paper draw the outline of a tree in your chosen size. Ours was enormous to cover a 6 month period but as small as A4 is fine for a shorter time
- Attach poster to a wall or door at a suitable height for the child to reach
- Each day collect, make, draw or find something to add to the tree – leaves from a walk, ribbons, cards with wishes written on, art from school, stickers, sweet wrappers, theatre tickets, labels, write on a different word each day or even create a mural which is added to daily – anything the kids come up with
- When the tree is full, the event occurs!
Your child has a great record of the period of time, as well as visual stimulus to remind them of all the things to tell the returning parent/visitor etc.
After 6 months apart, there were lots of stories for Caroline to tell so the items on the tree provided a great way to initiate and help reconnect. The tree provides easy conversation starters for Grandparents/visitors who perhaps haven’t been seen for a while or aren’t that well known to the child.
With a long term illness such as cancer it can also help tell the story of treatment.
Psychology and Empathy
A little parental guidance may be necessary in case younger children think that by painting or completing the tree in one go, the event will occur sooner, particularly worth watching for when children are awaiting someBODY rather than someTHING.
Additionally, especially when awaiting a parent or visitor, children may become bored and lose interest in the activity so it’s worth giving thought to how you might handle this.
It could be a sign of stress or worry that they are unable to voice any other way and it may be important to continue adding items to the tree yourself to maintain momentum and listen to any children’s worries that crop up.
It’s a great starting point for discussing fears or excitement surrounding the event. Starting with the reasons you are creating the tree, you can use it to talk about and reassure children on many subjects in a non-threatening environment. For example:-
- Why the parent is away and where they are (if appropriate)
- Why the visitors are coming
- Why the forthcoming event is special
- How long the wait is (number of sleeps etc)
- Worries and fears re loss/missing parents
- Fears of abandonment, being forgotten or forgetting the parent
- Reassurance of return
- Understanding of time
Disposing of your Homecoming Tree might prove challenging and will need sensitivity as a huge amount of unseen emotion is invested in its creation. Ours became an artistic masterpiece on the lounge wall for almost a year after Wild Daddy came home. And it wasn’t small!
I’d love to hear your own homecoming tree ideas; please share any thoughts in the comments below.
During Caroline’s cancer treatment we’ve been counting the weeks between rounds of chemo and radiotherapy but we haven’t needed a Homecoming Tree this time as the hospital Beads of Courage programme marks time for us. My post Beautiful Beads for Courageous Cancer Kids explains.
Read more about Caroline’s cancer journey at Caroline’s Rainbow.