As the seasons change, so do the plants around us. Nature journaling is an excellent way to keep track of seasonal changes and develop keen observation skills. Here are some ideas for keeping a leaf journal throughout the seasons, a great addition to your science unit on plants.
The shape and size 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. Despite this, there are 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 binder or notebook for leaves and plants. They will be able to either 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 able.
Where did the leaves come from? What does the rest of the plant look like? What season is it?
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 the easiest 3 methods for kids using nature journals are crayon rubbings, pressing them flat, and sealing them in wax paper. You have probably done either one or all of these methods yourself!
Making a Leaf Rubbing
You will need:
- crayons or colored pencils
- office 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. This can be done with regular white office paper, a crayon (or colored pencil) 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. Carefully rub the crayon or pencil 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. If you want another level of accuracy and careful observation, have kids try to match the color of the leaves with the color they use to make the rubbing.
Pressing a Leaf
You will need:
- 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 or scrap paper. Then place a heavy book or two on top. Leave the books on top for several days.
You can also use a flower press for this. A great option for an inexpensive kid’s “nature keeper” and flower press is this one from Nancy B’s Science Club.
Over time, the leaf will become very flat and will dry out. Once the leaves are pressed, they can be taped into a 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 a binder, or cut out the leaves (leaving a bit of wax paper around each side to maintain the seal) and tape them into a notebook. You can also write directly on the wax paper with a marker if you have information or observations about the leaves.
Create The Leaf 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 from 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.
You might also want to take leaf science a step further by investigating the different pigments found in leaves by doing this classic experiment. You might be surprised by the results!
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