Autumn Leaves: Simple Science and Activities for Kids

Can you explain the changing colors of autumn leaves to a child?

I admit it sometimes takes me a minute to remember the basics about chlorophyll and hidden pigments. But I just found a quick refresher on the science and some fun hands-on activities to help the lessons stick, thanks to Yankee magazine’s foliage website and an educator from the Museum of Science, Boston.

I hope these will help you answer your child’s questions more confidently this fall—and have fun doing so!

“Why Leaves Change Color: Chlorophyll goes, carotene stays”: This article simply explains how chlorophyll creates food for trees out of sunlight and water, and how seasonal changes affect the colors of leaves by allowing yellows and oranges (previously hidden by chlorophyll’s green) to show and seasonal reds (produced as nights lengthen and temperatures drop) to develop.

Why Leaves Change Colors Activity: Teach your kids about capillary action and separate hidden pigments with these chromatography projects. The simpler version uses paper towels, water, and markers; for older children, you may want to try the version with leaves, alcohol, and a glass container.

Leaves to Color: Print out these accurate illustrations of 12 different leaves, from ash to witch hazel. Then color them to match what you see outside.

Secrets of Preserving Leaves Activity: Want to press leaves at home? Here are some tips from a mom who’s done it with her kids, using either big books or an iron, and then made gift cards and bookmarks with the colorful results.

Yankee’s site also includes foliage maps and forecasts, if you’re thinking of making a family trip to see the colors.

Learn More from AMC

Photo of sugar maple leaves in autumn in Rye, New Hampshire, by Jerry and Marcy Monkman.


About the Author…

Heather Stephenson

AMC Outdoors inspires people to engage in outdoor conservation and recreation through meaningful stories.

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