Autumn Leaves Science for Kids
This simple science activity is an easy way to explore leaves with an indoor experiment. Activities using natural materials engage all the senses, and provide valuable support for hands-on fun and learning.
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The changing colors of leaves on trees and plants are a clear indication that the fall season has arrived. There are many ways to enjoy the beautiful red and yellow leaves with early learners: go on a nature walk; include natural materials in crafts; conduct simple science experiments.
Interactive play provides hands-on discovery and learning as kids enjoy daily activities.
- Exploring natural materials supports awareness of the environment. Kids can observe weather conditions, animal habitats and notable signs of the changing seasons.
- Nature crafts include a variety of textures, smells and colors that provide sensory experiences for kids.
The leaves that kids gather on a nature walk can be used in crafts and activities like this science experiment.
Observing autumn leaves
The fall season is an amazing time of year for observing colorful autumn leaves with preschoolers.
This experiment helps kids observe and document changes in leaves. There's lots of sensory experience going on in this activity as well, with heavy books, crunchy leaves, and brilliant fall colors!
We used red and yellow maple leaves in this activity but you can use any leaves available in your area.
We are fortunate to live near a wooded area, which means we have a great supply of leaves! The trees are especially beautiful as the leaves change color in the fall.
These large maple leaves are perfect for this indoor experiment.
Set up the experiment
For this activity you will need autumn leaves of similar size and type. We collected two yellow leaves and two red leaves for this experiment.
You will also need a least two heavy books, and white paper for charting results.
Conduct the experiment
Place two leaves between the books.
Place two leaves on a table or shelf in open air.
Allow the leaves to remain in place overnight.
Create a simple outline on paper similar to the one in the photo to observe and record results.
Include the day or date, the type of leaves used, and the variable (open air or under a book).
Remove the leaves from between the books to compare with the ones left in open air.
Add your observations: Do the leaves look the same? What, if any, are the differences in feel or appearance?
Return the two leaves to the book where they were previously placed.
Remove the leaves from between the books.
Compare these leaves with the ones left in the open air overnight.
Return the two leaves to their place between the books.
Continue to observe the leaves for another day or two, placing the same leaves between two books overnight while the other leaves remain uncovered.
Place the leaves side by side on the record sheet. Make observations in shape, color, texture, smell.
- Did either leaf change its shape or color?
- Does either leaf feel or smell different?
What may have caused any changes in appearance?
Possible answers include:
1. The weight of the book flattened the leaf and prevented it from curling up.
2. The leaf in open air dried up when its water evaporated.
More to explore
What would happen to the leaves that had been pressed between the books if left uncovered overnight?
Can the curled leaves be flattened if placed between two books?
Did the leaf curl because it was brought inside? Do the leaves curl outside as they do inside? Observe leaves outside, on the tree and on the ground.
Exploring properties of autumn leaves
Observing autumn leaves with preschoolers prompts lots of questions and open-ended discussions.
Provide information and activities to your child at home, or the participants in your early learning program, according to interests and skill levels.
You can find lots of information online explaining why leaves change color and fall off the branches.
Related: Why do leaves fall off trees?
Here are a few main points to consider.
1. Chemicals called pigments in the leaves of the trees give them their color.
Chlorophyll gives leaves a green color.
Carotenoids make leaves red, yellow and brown.
2. While leaves are green they make food for the tree, but when leaves receive less warmth from the sun as the weather cools, the chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down. Food becomes stored in the tree instead of in the leaves.
3. When there is not as much chlorophyll present in the leaves, the other colors, which have been there all along, now become more visible.
4. The tree creates a seal between itself and the leaf which prevents food an water from reaching the leaf. The leaf will dry up and fall to the ground, sometimes with the help of wind and rain.
5. Since the tree is now storing food all winter, it will be stronger in the spring to grow new leaves.
6. When leaves fall off the tree, they crumble and mix with other plants and sun and water to become mulch to fertilize the ground around the tree.
The important outcome for this activity is experiencing nature, and learning to explore, observe, and discover.
The crunch of dried leaves, the weight of heavy books, and the exciting results of the experiment all stack up to make this a fun fall activity!