The Many Colors of the Leaves

Fall is upon us and the colors are changing. Every year nature surprises us with deep burgundies, intense yellows, flaming oranges, strong crimsons and a variety of greens and browns. We are also presented with a variety of leaf shapes from oaks, aspens, gingko, maples, beech, birch and sycamores amongst others. These wonderful leaves and beautiful colors can become and inspiration for children to create and explore art. As we go on one of our daily walks, Armen comments excitedly, “I see colors on trees.” Mariana looks at him and says, “Is because the wind is cold and it makes different colors.”


What it Means:

From a Child’s Perspective:

Children create different theories based on their observations, ideas, imagination, experiences and what they know and value. To them a leave changes color because of the wind, or the cold weather. They are not concerned with the specific scientific reasons. Their theories may not be accurate, but the process of developing the hypothesis is what is meaningful.  Listening to their ideas is what matters, it send the message, “What you have to say is important.” This is what gives children the confidence to continue to create, explore and test new ideas and hypothesis.

From a Teacher’s Perspective:

It would be easy to take leadership and use this moment to teach the children what makes leaves change colors. We can use books and create a lesson plan around leaves. Even though this would be our initial instinct, we know that talking about the real reasons the leaves change colors would end the conversation and once again they would look to us to impart the knowledge.  What we truly want is to embrace the children’s perspective. We want them to enjoy the changing of the colors and appreciate it as a gift from nature. We want children to explore inquiry questions, test hypothesis and keep their sense of wonder alive. We want to engage their curiosity and to connect to their own learning. We have a desire to support children to become life-long-learners. 

Consider setting a simple display of leaves near the light table. Think about the background fabric you can use to intensify the colors of the leaves. We used black and placed a few basket with leaves separated by type and by color. We wanted children to compare and contrast the differences and appreciate each leaf individually. Lany is fascinated by the leaves, she spends time arranging the leaves and creating different designs. She uses the maple leaves and arranges them in a line, she then changes them again and creates a circle. Her work becomes more complex as more leaves are added.

After a few days, we decide to include an art experience using leaves. We did not want to incorporate paint, because we felt that the leaves offered enough color and paint would be distracting. Instead we used a deep yellow fabric on a round table. We created a platform in the middle using some thick wood tiles. We added a basket with oak leaves of different sizes. Around the center provocation, we set four different stations. Each had a wood tile and on top we place frames that the children can use to contain their designs. We allowed them to explore the oak leaves for a few days. We noticed that the children were getting leaves from the light table. We decided to incorporate other leaves into the provocation. We incorporated gingko leaves and small maple leaves. The children created exquisite designs and spent time describing the colors and how they made them feel. They talked in detail about the different shapes. After completing a particularly complicated design, Tomas points to a photo of a cluster of trees and exclaims,  “I can see how all these leaves work together, like they do in nature.”