Looking at Leaves

Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS

Fall is a great time to investigate leaves! They crunch underfoot and amaze us with their transforming colors. Leaves come in many different shapes, sizes and in the fall, colors!

Begin by holding up a leaf and asking the children what it is and where it came from. Pass the leaf around and ask what children notice about it. What color is it? What shape? Is it smooth, fuzzy, or some other texture? Ask the children what senses they just used to describe the leaf. All the things they noticed about the leaf are called observations.

Take children on a walk outside. While there, observe and collect leaves from a variety of trees. Make some observations. Ask the children what they see. What do you smell? What do you hear? What do you feel? Try to find evidence of animals on the leaves they are collecting.

Once indoors, study their collection of leaves. Count the number of leaves collected. Talk about using key describing words, such as color, shape, size, lobes and teeth. What are some different ways we might sort the leaves? Play sorting games with the collected leaves using their ideas. How many different groups of leaves did you make? How many leaves are in each group? How are the leaves in one group the same? How is this group of leaves different from (or the same as) the other groups?

For these and other great ideas, use Growing Up WILD’s “Looking at Leaves.”

For an extension that can last all year long, consider “adopting” a tree. The next time you are on a walk in a familiar area, invite children to choose a particular tree to observe. Suggest they become better acquainted with it by using their senses of sight, touch, hearing, and smell to describe the tree. Visit the tree each season making observations on how the tree has changed with each visit. Collect leaves, do leaf rubbings, paint with the leaves, hug the tree to see how many hugs big it is. Be sure to take pictures each time you are out. At the end of the year, the children not only see how much their tree changed over the year, but how much they have grown and changed as well.

Helpful Links:

Kindernature.org has many leaf activities, songs, games and crafts. Search “leaves” in the activity box on the right side of the page.

Leafsnap.com is a free mobile app that uses visual recognition software to help identify tree species from photographs of their leaves. They contain beautiful high-resolution images of leaves, flowers, fruits, petioles, seeds and bark.

Iowa tree identification – This interactive dichotomous tree key was developed to help identify the most common trees in Iowa.