Tree Leaves and Lasting Impressions
Discovery Place Nature
Now playing at the Accenture IMAX Dome Theatre at Discovery Place Science, “Into America’s Wild” is a cross-country adventure into some of the most beautiful, little-known landscapes of North America and the deep connection we all share with the natural world.
Studies show that spending time in nature makes us more creative, more energetic and it’s important to our overall well-being.
Through various nature activities related to the theme of “Into America’s Wild” and aligned with Next Generation Science Standards, educators, parents and neighbors can inspire children to get outdoors and strengthen a lifelong appreciation for America’s wild.
A Closer Look at Leaves
Plants use their leaves to create food using sunlight. The chlorophyll in the chloroplasts of the leaves makes them green, and those chloroplasts convert the energy in sunlight into food energy.
In this activity, children will take a closer look at leaves of trees, then create one or more leaf art projects to bring nature indoors. This activity is best for grades PreK-K.
Preparation and Materials
Be prepared to collect leaves. Lots of them, if you are creating pressed leaf pictures. Depending on the season and the project, you will need various materials.
- Sturdy, fresh leaves
- Tempera paint
- Art paper, any kind
Pressed Leaf Pictures—Autumn
- Leaves that have fallen from trees, but are still flexible enough to flatten
- Phone books or other thick books that you don’t mind getting damp
- White glue
- Card stock
Leaf Rubbings—Autumn or Spring
- Sturdy, flexible leaves
- Crayon pieces without paper wrappers
- Printer paper, plus scrap paper or newspaper to protect the table
Get Into Nature and Begin the Activity
Take children out into nature to find several different trees in the schoolyard or neighborhood. Ask the students to observe the trees and their leaves carefully.
How are leaves the same and how are they different? How are the leaves positioned on the plant to absorb sunlight? Are the topsides of the leaves identical to the undersides of the leaves?
Consider the methods plants use to obtain nutrients and compare them to the methods animals use to obtain nutrients—plants process sunlight with chloroplasts to create nutrients, but animals eat plants or other animals to survive. This is why we say that plants are producers and animals are consumers.
When observing leaves, look for venation patterns—the lines made by the veins of the leaf where the nutrients flow. Trees and bushes can be identified by their leaf shape and venation patterns, so help children spot the similarities and differences.
Try to find one of each type of venation pattern among the leaves you collect outside. Which one is most challenging to find?
Leaf Prints Procedures
Leaf prints work best with fresh leaves. Help children feel the difference between the upper smooth side of the leaf and the bumpy underside where the veins stick out.
Spread tempera paint with fingers or brushes across the underside of the leaf. With clean fingers, press the painted side of the leaf onto paper and press evenly, then carefully peel the leaf away. You may want to practice first!
Pressed Leaf Pictures Procedures
In autumn, as colorful leaves begin to fall, take advantage of North America’s glorious display by collecting the leaves and pressing them (make sure they are dry first) in the pages of old books or between sheets of white paper under stacks of heavy books.
Some leaves are ready after one week. Other leaves need to dry for two or three weeks before they can be arranged into pictures or patterns using glue on stiff paper.
Leaf Rubbings Procedures
Leaf rubbings work best with sturdy, flexible leaves. Place the leaf vein side up and cover it with a sheet of paper. Using the tip or side of a crayon, gently rub the crayon over the entire leaf, holding both the leaf and the paper steady to keep them from sliding.
Use a variety of leaves and colors for a creative display. You might also have children cut the leaf rubbing images apart, then sort them by leaf size, leaf shape or leaf venation pattern.