In The Education of Little Tree, the lessons Little Tree learns from his grandparents have to do with respect and caring. For example, from his grandfather he learns to respect nature and take only what he needs: when they go together on a turkey hunt and trap six birds, Little Tree takes only three. Another time, when Little Tree finds the sweet smelling musk bugs, he brings them to his grandmother, who tells him that sharing what is good with whoever you can find is right. He also learns lessons about spirituality from his grandparents, and about how everyone has a "spirit mind" and a "body mind."
Little Tree also learns lessons about trust. He helps his grandfather work his still and is proud of his work, but he learns to mistrust the government agents that come to shut the still down. He befriends a white girl who is very poor, and he has his grandmother make her a pair of moccasins, only to see her whipped by her father for accepting charity from an Indian. He is cheated out of fifty cents by a "Christian" in town who sells him an unhealthy calf. These experiences teach him that the ways of his family are not the ways of other people.
Perhaps the best lesson Little Tree learns is the lesson of kinship. He learns that "kin" is a word that used to mean much more than simply being related—to "kin" someone is to truly understand them in a deep way, which is also the purest expression of love.
In the Education of Little Tree, the character Little Tree learns the Cherokee way of life from his grandparents, especially from his grandfather who becomes his father figure when he is orphaned. He learns to use nature wisely, taking only what he needs and using it completely. His grandfather teaches him to “listen” to what nature is telling him, and together they examine the concept of the life cycle. One of the most important lessons that Little Tree learns is about “Kin” or enduring understanding through love. Little Tree’s grandparents exhibit this type of love from their years as partners. One tradition the grandfather explains is the marriage stick which is not to be broken. Little Tree’s grandfather also teaches him about his Cherokee heritage including the story of the “Trail of Tears.” Grandfather feels that you must know your past in order to move forward with your future. Work ethic is another lesson taught by the grandparents as they work to make a living. All the while, they also encourage Little Tree to learn new vocabulary by using the dictionary and they have him read books. They try to give Little Tree an education that is both practical for his life situation but also important to his future.