"The Autumn Leaves....drift by my window..." that's how the song goes, so let's do some leaf-based explorations...
Even though the leaves are almost gone, there is still some time to do some outdoor exploration with your children. On your next stroll, make observations about leaf color and shape. Ask your child if they know why the leaves are changing color - what could be happening?
Then get a collection of leaves. Try to find a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Back home, have your child sort the leaves. They can first sort them by size. Then color. Then shape. I like to simplify a complicated concept for young children by having them sort leaves int the two “most popular” leaf shapes in the following way:
** Does the leaf look like a closed fist?
[This would include birch, beech, elm, magnolia...and many others.]
** Does the leaf look like an open hand?
[This includes maples, oaks, or others that appear to be “spread out”.]
If they’d like to go more deeply and explore a variety or leaf shape characteristics, you can use a chart, like this one from Encyclopedia Britannica Kids:
The question that is always on their minds though is WHY DO THE LEAVES CHANGE COLORS?
Before telling them, have them share their ideas on what is happening. When they’re ready, here’s the simple explanation I use with young children and a video I made to demonstrate this beautiful phenomenon:
When autumn rolls around, trees begin to prepare for winter. One way they get ready is to stop producing CHLOROPHYLL (Green!!) which is found in leaves. Chlorophyll is the pigment in leaves that allows trees to do PHOTOSYNTHESIS. When there is less sunlight, the trees make less chlorophyll and when the chlorophyll starts to disappear we see another pigment in the leaves CAROTENOID (Orange! Yellow!).
To demonstrate the "removal of chlorophyll" you can use this video and then try it yourself at home. All you will need is a plastic or paper cup (or small bowl) with a small hole towards the bottom, a straw, yellow paint or marker, water and green food coloring. Paint the inside of the cup yellow, put the straw in the hole, then holding the straw plugged, mix water and green food color. The GREEN WATER represents the chlorophyll in the leaf...then unplug the straw and as the green drains away, YELLOW is left behind!
If your children love trees as much as I do, consider getting my “Hug A Tree” kit for more at home exploration: http://www.exploreoutsideyourdoor.com/?shopp_product=hug-a-tree-kit