Why do leaves change colors? When do the leaves change? What will happen to the leaves after they fall? In this activity, children look for signs of autumn. They observe the annual change of seasons, and investigate why leaves of deciduous trees change color in the fall.
Doing the Activity
As autumn approaches, take children on a walk through a wooded area, schoolyard, local park, or neighborhood sidewalk to look for signs of fall.
Point out the differences between deciduous and evergreen trees.
- Have children find at least five of each and collect sample leaves.
- Create leaf rubbings by covering a leaf with a piece of paper and rubbing a crayon over it. The leaf’s margin and veins will appear.
- Use crayons to match the fall colors found in the leaves.
Encourage critical thinking by asking:
- What signs of fall can you see in the trees and on the ground?
- How many different leaf colors can you find?
- What will happen to the leaves?
Have children use the colorful fall leaves to create a picture.
Why Do Leaves Change Color?
With fall’s colder temperatures and shorter days, the cells of deciduous tree leaves begin to die.
The dead cells block water and nutrients from the leaf.
Chlorophyll, the green pigment in the leaves, breaks down and the yellow and red pigments begin to show through.
Did You Know?
Fallen leaves are an essential part of a forest’s ecosystem. The “leaf litter” shields the soil from hard rains, holding in moisture and preventing erosion. It also protects tree seeds that will germinate next spring, and nutrients that leach from the dead leaves nourish the seedlings.
Get the Full Activity
This family activity is adapted from Project Learning Tree’s Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide and our PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide which can be obtained from PLT’s Shop or in conjunction with an in-person professional development workshop or online course.
Check out the autumnal classic children’s picture book: Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert, ISBN: 0152053042. Fall has come, the wind is gusting, and the leaf man is on the move. Follow him along his journey in this wonderfully illustrated book with images made of leaves.
“Why Do Leaves Change Color in the Fall?” This 6:59-minute video explains the remarkable transition forests undergo from summer to winter, including changes in leaf color. It is one of a series of BeLeaf It or Not! videos by Michigan State University Extension which are geared for students.
“What Makes Trees So Colorful in the Fall” further describes PLT’s activity Signs of Fall that helps children learn about both the visible and invisible changes happening in leaves as they change colors in the autumn.
This video walks viewers through PLT’s activity to learn about different leaf pigments and it demonstrates how children can use chromatography to pull out leaf pigments using simple household items. It helps answer the question, “Why do leaves change color?”
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