Learn the Parts of a Leaf & Make Window Art
In this science activity, kids will make artwork out of a leaf while learning about its parts.
A leaf is defined as an above-ground plant organ that is specialized for photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants use energy from the sun to make food. Think of leaves as the food factory for a plant.
There are many different parts of the leaf. The blade is the broad, flat part of the leaf. Leaves are shaped this way so that more of the chlorophyll in the leaf can be exposed to the sunlight. The epidermis is the outer covering of the leaf. Sometimes this covering is thin and flimsy like most leaves we see in this area. Other times, the epidermis is waxy and thick, like the covering of a holly leaf. Veins look like little channels that run along the back of the leaf; they are small tubes that allow for the movement of sugar and water within the leaf to keep it alive. The petiole is the short stem that attaches the leaf to the main branch. Finally, trichomes are small hairs that can be on the underside of some leaves. These can help prevent water loss in a leaf by holding onto humidity.
There are 2 types of leaves: simple and compound. Simple leaves have an undivided blade (or only small indentations), while compound leaves have blades that are divided into smaller leaflets (a central vein with many leaflets stemming from it).
A botanist is a type of biologist who studies plants. There are many different types of botanists such as a plant physiologist who studies photosynthesis and how plants grow. There are also plant ecologists who study how plants interact with their environment.
- Contact paper or similar cut into approx. 6 - 2 per student
- Pressed leaves - 1 per student
- Hole puncher
- Piece of ribbon, pipecleaner or similar - 1 per student
- Magnifying glass (optional)
Go on a walk and observe all the amazing leaves all around you. Pick up or gently remove several different kinds of leaves and bring them home or to your classroom. How many different colors, shapes and sizes can you find? For this activity, be sure to choose leaves that are relatively flat and not from a succulent plant (meaning, full of water).
Now examine all of your leaves together, using a magnifying glass if you have one. How are they the same? How are they different? Can you identify the four main parts of a leaf? Download a printable leaf diagram here: leaf picture
Once you've finished examining the leaves, you may want to place your leaf inside a heavy book to flatten it for a few days. Once all of your leaves are flat, you are ready to make art!
Contact paper works best for this activity because it is the easiest for kids to work with, but if you don't have contact paper, there are lots of workarounds; for example, both waxed paper and an old recycled zipper baggie work well. (To make this substitution, instead of sticking two pieces of contact paper together, you'll need to place your project between two dish towels or similar and WITH THE HELP OF AN ADULT use an iron to "melt" the top and bottom together to enclose your leaf.)
Take the backing off of one square of contact paper and place your leaves flat on the sticky side. Take the backing off of the second piece of contact paper and place this, sticky side down, onto the leaf and sandwich the leaf in between the two pieces.
Trim any uneven edges. Cut around the leaves, leaving a small margin of contact paper around the edge of the leaf.
Use a sharpie to label the parts of the leaf you can identify. (If working with a large group of kids, you may want to pre-print or write the names of the leaf parts on small labels.) Be sure to examine the leaves with a magnifying glass.
Punch a hole in the top of your leaf artwork, add a pretty ribbon or pipecleaner, and hang on a window to enjoy! Sunlight streaming through a leaf really brings out its colors.
Use some of your leaves to make rainbow leaf prints.
Use some of your leaves to make pretty fall lanterns.
Make a 3-D tree display for your leaves by sticking old tree branches into a base made from floral foam or Plaster of Paris.