My 5th grader attends Opal School, a K-grade 5 Portland Public Schools charter school at the Portland Children’s Museum.  The school takes full advantage of its setting in Washington Park to access and experience the outdoors, giving the students time to breathe fresh air, feel the falling rain, get muddy, climb trees, hike, and run up and down grassy slopes.

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Photo credit: Kimie Fukuda
All rights reserved


Photo credit: Kimie Fukuda
All rights reserved

They study and play in the areas immediately outside the school, but also within Hoyt Arboretum.  These years are a priceless gift that nurtures the students’ connection with the natural world in an age of “nature-deficit syndrome.”  I could go on and on about the incredible work that goes on at this school, but read their blog if you want to know more. The subject of this post is a special tree.


I don’t know the story of how this tree acquired the name “Zoom.”  It had been named before my children were enrolled.  Zoom is a large, multi-trunk western red-cedar, Thuja plicata, located outside the Children’s Museum. It is perfect for climbing.  My son fully explored the spreading lower limbs from the age of 3 onward.  Older children climb to the very top.

Climbing trees aren’t hard to find, but this tree offers more than that.  The lowest hanging foliage makes a curtain and ducking underneath one enters a new place — the shade is cooling, sounds are filtered out, outside views are screened — you’re not standing at the base of Zoom, you are within Zoom.


There is space here for an entire classroom of children to all explore and experience together.  There is something so unique about this — I think of most school yards with the hot sun baking down on flat asphalt surfaces and play equipment which suggests limited options, providing for few to use at a given time.  Zoom invites all to experience at each one’s level of comfort or inspiration — playing under, around, up a little, or way up high.  Alone, with a buddy, with your entire class.  What does it feel like to be uncertain and worried about finding one’s way down?  To have one’s feet touch the ground again, having climbed just a little bit higher than the day before?


Photo credit: Kimie Fukuda
All rights reserved


Photo credit: Kimie Fukuda
All rights reserved

How fitting that Zoom exists in such proximity to a school which values multisensory and experiential learning.  I have to believe that children with teachers who know the value of touching, climbing, loving a tree as a friend will grow into adults who know that living in relationship to trees is essential to our well-being.

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5 Responses to Zoom

  1. Julie Fukuda says:

    It reminds me of two very young boys who learned to identify trees, not by name, but “that is the kind of tree that has itchy caterpillars” They didn’t get that information by standing and looking!

  2. Paula Dion says:

    My son and his classmates, the first gen Opal kids, named Zoom. So many happy memories and thoughts go along with that name…kids testing their limits about how high a branch they could reach, others nestling beneath the magic circle of Zoom’s branches, chatting with fairies. Zoom embraced all, without judgement – something rare for kids today. I am hoping that the Museum’s soon-to-be-built outdoor experience exhibit stays true to Zoom’s spirit of open-ended exploration.

  3. julieafukuda says:

    Paula, good point about the new exhibit. I’m not sure how it will end up when the project is complete but at least from the available schematic the space around Zoom will be altered from its current naturalistic setting. http://www.portlandcm.org/outdoor-adventure/

  4. Pingback: A tree called Zoom | Treeblogging.com

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