INTRODUCING THE LEAF PROJECT Children first expressed their interest in leaves when they made use of the baskets we provided for them. They used them to collect leaves in the backyard and on nature walks in our forest. Also, a letter went home to parents informing them of our study of leaves and requesting they help their child find a leaf at home to bring in.
We were fortunate to have a variety of trees on our property. Leaves were matched to the different trees in the backyard. Chestnuts were picked; then cooked for snack. Pine cones were collected.
Sassafras leaves became the most easily recognized leaf. Children called it a “cheetah leaf” because of the brown spots. Everyone knew that a sassafras leaf could have either one, two or three lobes.
SETTING UP THE ENVIRONMENT We knew many opportunities for sorting, classifying, counting and measuring would take place. After collecting leaves by color a display table and book were set up for the children to sort and match again and again.
Our learning environment includes the outdoors. Throughout the year children can observe seasonal changes and develop an awareness of the natural world. For the leaf project clipboards and drawing materials were provided outside, along with resource books about leaves.
The kitchen was transformed into a studio. Children were able to represent leaves and trees in various media: collage, colored pencils, pencil drawing, water color, print-making.
Children were introduced to equipment and tools. Examples: clipboards for observational drawing, rulers, magnifying glasses, and resource books. There were many opportunities for co-operative interactions between children.
OUR SPECIAL TREE – “FRED” Children made frequent trips out to the front yard to get to know Fred, our special maple tree. On many occasions we had picnics in the shade of Fred. Children were encouraged to really, really look before drawing a picture of the tree. Real life drawings increase the children’s powers of observation and levels of concentration.
After many visits to Fred, some children created a 3 dimensional model of Fred. Much discussion took place about the color of the tree and the characteristics of the leaves.
NATURE TRAIL The Elephants worked together on the Free To Be nature trail. They identified special features along the trail and created a field guide. On Autumnfest Day they used the field guide to give tours for family and friends.
INVITING EXPERTS Margaret Simons, as always, volunteered to help with our project. In addition to answering our questions and bringing in resource books, she donated two trees to Free To Be. She explored the similarities and differences between them with the children. We then planted the trees in our yard.
One of the trees, a small maple, was named Baby Fred by the children. It was just the right size to bring inside so that children could draw a tree. Again, children were expected to really, really look. In their drawings some children represented the roots coming out of the bottom of the pot, the many small leaves, the thin trunk and/or the skinny branches.
Emery DiGiorgio, a literature professor at the college, shared her love of poetry with the children. Some children made illustrations to accompany their favorite leaf poems.
AUTUMNFEST The Autumnfest was our culminating activity. Children gave tours of the Nature Trail. The Leaf Museum was open in our screen house. Children performed the Dance of Leaves and their play about Fred, Our Special Tree. Families were invited to stay for apple cider and donuts.