Before all the leaves fall off the trees and are too crunchy to collect, make a nature identification book with young children. Collecting and exercising are good reasons for walks in the woods together.
For more science ideas see grandparentsteachtoo.org, wnmufm.org "Learning through the Seasons" pod casts and WNMU-FM Public Radio 90 live Tuesdays 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 8:35 a.m.
ANDEREGG, MACALADY, FOX, HETRICK, KATERS
Bag, leaves, white glue, thick paper, ruler, and string
What to do
A walk is a perfect time to combine science, reading and quiet discussion to build vocabulary. Very young children can collect and sort leaves by size and color. Older children can collect, measure and sort by type. Explain that leaves make food for plants by taking water from the ground through the roots and collecting the gas carbon dioxide from people and animals through tiny holes. With sunshine and a green chemical called chlorophyll, leaves make sugar to feed the tree. This is called photosynthesis. Show children leaf veins that spread the sugar around. Use a magnifying glass to look at leaves closely.
As children collect, explain red and other colors are in leaves all year around, but the green chlorophyll covers them up. In fall there is less daylight so the leaves cannot make as much food. The leaves start shutting down and dying. Cells grow and close off the leaf stems from the branches. Finally the leaves fall.
Teach children the names and characteristics of leaves. How does a maple leaf look different from an oak or pine? Point out that oak tree seeds are acorns and maple seeds twirl around like helicopters. White pine trees conveniently have five needles or leaves like letters in their name. Red pines have two needles. Look around for cones and examine seeds tucked inside. Most evergreen trees lose some of their needles and grow new ones. The tamaracks lose all needles in fall.
What else can we do?
Pull a leaf out of the collection bag. Can children find one that matches? Talk about the characteristics of the leaf. Put two different leaves together. Point out what characteristics make them maple or pine leaves. Children can take pictures of leaves with a camera or phone for a short family presentation about a walk in the woods.
At home place the leaves under heavy books or place leaves in a magazine with something heavy on top to press for a day.
The next day use a brush to paint the leaves with white glue on both sides and glue them on heavy paper. Glue the seeds, too. Cones can be glued on a cover.
When dry, print the tree name or have children say a sentence about the leaf as you print. Punch a hole in each page and tie with yarn or gift ribbon. Place tape around the hole to reinforce it.
Editor's note: This column is penned by retired Marquette Area Public Schools teachers Iris Katers, Jean Hetrick, and Cheryl Anderegg. Esther Macalady is from Golden, Colorado. Tim Fox currently teaches at Superior Hills Elementary. It's supported by Northern Michigan University Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship, the School of Education, U.P. Children's Museum, U.P. Association for the Education of Young Children, and U.P. Parent Awareness of Michigan. Their book "Learning Through the Seasons" is available at area stores and www.grandparentsteachtoo.org. Their mission is to provide fun standards based activities that adults can do in the home to prepare children for school and a lifetime of learning and reduce the stress of child care.