As the seasons change, so do the plants around us. Creating a Fall Leaf Nature journal is an excellent way to keep track of seasonal changes and develop keen observation skills (and to just enjoy the beauty of the fall colors). Here are some ideas for keeping a leaf journal throughout the seasons. This makes a great addition to your science unit on plants, too!
Fall Leaf Nature Journal Information to Gather
The shapes and sizes of leaves can tell us a lot about what type of plant or tree we are observing. However, keeping samples of leaves can be difficult because they curl and become brittle once they dry out. So let’s look at several easy ways to preserve a leaf, or its likeness, that kids can store in a journal for future reference.
Have kids create a dedicated notebook or journal for the leaves and plants. Decide which method you want to use (or try all three). They can use the leaf rubbing technique, press the leaves flat, or seal the leaves in wax paper to save them for continued study later on.
Observing and Collecting Leaves
First, have kids collect leaves and make some observations while they are doing so. Encourage them to collect leaves from the ground rather than directly from plants when possible. Then ask the children what clues the leaves give us so we can determine what type of tree it came from.
- What color is the leaf?
- What shape is the leaf?
- What type of edge does it have?
Then, once they have some good notes, take the leaves inside. Be sure they are dry before you try any of the methods for preserving leaves explained below.
Preserving a Leaf
Leaves are short-lived. Once they are no longer on a plant, they quickly dry, and over time, become curled and brittle. There are many ways to preserve leaves, but I’ve found that there are three methods that are easy and work well for kids who are nature journaling.
- crayon rubbings
- sealing in wax paper
You have probably done either one or all of these methods yourself! If not, though, or if you need a refresher, I’ve explained each method below.
Making a Leaf Rubbing
You will need:
- copy paper
Leaf rubbings are a great way to preserve the shape of a leaf and maintain even small details like the vein pattern without actually keeping the leaf. (The vein pattern is also another clue about what tree the leaf belongs to.) Leaf rubbings can be done with regular white copy paper, a crayon, and a leaf.
Depending on how young the student is, you may want to tape the leaf down to a surface before making the rubbing. Small hands can have difficulty keeping it all still while rubbing, which results in blurred images. Be sure that the bumpy, veiny underside of the leaf is facing upward to get the best rubbing.
Place the paper over the leaf. One idea is to choose a crayon to match the leaf color so you can document that aspect without keeping the leaf. Carefully rub the crayon over the paper above the leaf. You will begin to see the details of the leaf emerging. Old crayons that have the paper peeled off are the best for this project, so dig into the bottom of the crayon box for those!
Once you’ve made the rubbing, you can use a 3-hole punch to pop the paper in a binder. You can also simply make the rubbings right in a notebook or journal.
Pressing a Leaf
You will need:
- leaves (For this project, you should use leaves that aren’t yet completely dried out.)
- heavy books
Another way to preserve a leaf is to press it flat. Be sure your leaf or leaves are dry. Place them between newspaper (if anyone even still has newspaper) or just use scrap paper. Then place a heavy book or two on top. Leave the books on top for several days.
Over time, the leaf will become very flat and will dry out. Once the leaves are pressed, they can be taped into the fall leaf nature journal.
Sealing a Leaf in Wax Paper
You will need:
- wax paper
- clothing iron
The last way to easily preserve leaves for a journal is to seal them in wax paper. Be sure to supervise this process as it involves using a hot iron. You’ll also want to use a towel or surface that you don’t mind getting slightly waxy.
First, lay the leaves out on one side of a sheet of wax paper. Fold the other side of the wax paper over the top of the leaves. Using an iron on a cool setting, slowly iron the wax paper, applying some pressure until it looks shiny.
You can then punch holes into the wax paper to put in their fall leaf nature journal or cut out the leaves (leaving a bit of wax paper around each side to maintain the seal) and tape them into their fall leaf nature journal. You can also write directly on the wax paper with a marker if you have information or observations about the leaves.
Create the Fall Leaf Nature Journal
It is fun to collect and observe the leaves, but taking it a step further and identifying the plants will help extend and enrich this nature activity. Kids can use a traditional field guide for tree and plant identification. Another method is to utilize technology with these free easy-to-use plant identification apps.
If the area where they are collecting leaves is one that has been landscaped with plants that are not necessarily native, using an app is easier than attempting to find the right plant in a field journal.
Explore Other Leaf Activities
Adding art to your fall leaf nature journal is just one more way to really study the leaves and use them in creating art. You can find some fun Leaf Art ideas here.
You might also want to take leaf science a step further by investigating the different pigments found in leaves by doing this classic experiment. Or you may want to do this Chromatography experiment that includes a brief Bible lesson along with the experiment or this investigation into why leaves change color which includes some printables.
My name is Sarah Benton Feitlinger and I am a science educator with over 10 years experience sharing science in nature and environmental centers, museums, and schools. I have been studying science and nature in one way or another pretty much my whole life! Find Share it Science on Pinterest, Facebook & Twitter