This morning a few preschool children at the school where I teach looked up from filling their sand pails with mud and onion stew and announced in unison, “Look! It’s raining leaves!” The towering Black Walnut Tree maintained its sturdy, solid stance as its leaves sailed gracefully in mid-air before landing to mingle with the damp soil. “See if you can catch one before it falls,” I suggested. Moments later, the mud and onion stew proved to be the much more exciting endeavor because it needed more pebbles and grass. Looking at the hint of sunshine peeking out of the gray sky, I spotted a sycamore leaf that was gently descending, flashing its burnt orange hue. Could I catch it? I stretched my hands high over my head, cupping them for a successful catch. A little to the right. Now to the left. It’s on its way into my hands. Oh no. Missed it. Another one, dancing freely, twirled close above me. Patiently I stood, hands clapping together to catch it. I caught it. “I CAUGHT A LEAF! LOOK! I CAUGHT ONE!” I shouted. My enthusiasm was met with a few puzzled stares. Yes, I was waving my leaf around in jubilation. Yes, I added an extra spoonful of sugar to my cup of coffee earlier that morning. But what an extraordinary leaf. It was bright yellow with some tiny green specks. Glossy surface. Real pretty. One of a kind.
According to the Farmers’ Almanac, the probable peak fall foliage dates in Pennsylvania this year are October 5th through 21st. The colors will be their most vibrant, so think about taking a walk or hike along a trail to see what unique and stunning leaves drop into your life. Challenge your child to a leaf-catching race. It’s much more difficult than it looks, take my word. Try sorting your treasured leaves against a bright backdrop of construction paper or fabric. Make rubbings of various leaf types with crayons and label them. Dab watercolor on one side of a leaf with prominent veins and gently push the painted leaf on paper for a dazzling printmaking experience. Press them between the pages of a well-loved thick dictionary, cookbook, or collection of stories forever or for about a week. Capture your child’s observations from your leaf walk by making a leaf book.
Another great activity is creating one-page book, and it’s a favorite among preschoolers: (1) Fold the paper in half lengthwise to make a “hotdog” fold; (2) then fold it in half again to make a “hamburger” fold; (3) open it up, then fold it in half and cut from the fold to the middle; (4) open it up and re-fold into a book.
For a mixed media treasure, add bits of leaf collage and pastel or pencil drawing. In 18th and 19th century America, handmade “commonplace” books were expressions of selfhood that incorporated writing, drawing, and reflections with material or natural found objects. Children are often eager to put together bits of story, nature sketchings, or collage in a one-page book or in hand-assembled books made from recycled things such as pasta boxes. For more handmade book ideas for people of all ages, visit Making Books. To learn more about leaf identification, visit Auburn University’s leaf identification website.
What is your family’s favorite local spot for leaf catching?
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