Leaf study unit- child-led lessons in botany

Watching leaves of different colours, dancing in the wind, was V’s favourite activity as an infant. I still remember when, as a toddler, during one of our walks, she just picked a leaf from the ground, marveled at it and “gifted it to me.” To date, leaf-picking is one of her favourite outdoor activities. I have outlined how simple questions from her led us to detailed study in this unit.

Shapes, sizes and margins

During our earliest outdoors, after she could walk independently, I remember her running from one tree to another, exclaiming to me, “Amma, this is also a leaf!” Despite them being of different shapes and sizes, she still figured out they were leaves. We did a simple leaf match activity to draw our attention to the diversity in leaves. Once she is older and asks, we will try to match them all with trees / plant names too. She has been doing a lot of margin tracing on her own as well. Also, this was a great time to introduce the parts of the leaf.

Leaf-match study

Leaf colours

A fall-based sensory bowl with leaves we picked

During autumn, we used to get a lot of dried leaves debris on our balcony. V would love to clean up. But more often than not, she wanted to know why leaves were dry, or of different colours, and why they fall. The short answer to this, is that pigments change as leaves become older, and to conserve water, older leaves have to fall off to make way for new. I told her that leaves are of different colours, just like our skin. Each colour has a function. The green chlorophyll helps make food for the plant but once colder climate sets in, this stops. ( it has to stop for the well being of the tree).

Leaf veins- a STEAM experiment

She related it to how we eat food, and the blood takes energy to different parts of the body. She wanted to know if all the leaf food is stored in the leaf. We set up a super easy experiment and observed the leaf over the course of the next few days. We were amazed to see coloured water run through the veins of the leaves. This was also a great way to introduce scientific thinking and how it isn’t the worst idea to believe proof over words. V loved setting up the “exmeriment” and interpreting results.

Leaf art

Art with leaves

Every week, V collects he leaves and twigs we pick, and makes something out of it. It is usually sticking them on an A4 sheet of paper, but it teaches her a lot about spatial arrangement and aesthetics. It also gives her a feel of natural material and plenty of opportunity to examine them at close quarters.
Sometimes she cuts them or paints them. And other times , we make impressions and buntings of them.

Growth and Adaptations

Ever since V started watering our plants, she has been a lot more mindful of the number of leaves. Counting them became her favourite past-time. She recently asked us why the aloe and cactus do not have leaves. We diligently opened our copy of Nature Anatomy and learnt about leaf adaptations as well.

Part of a whole

It is amazing how one leaf functions so beautifully, alone, as well as together for a tree. Thanks to the older kids with whom she forages in the evenings, she is also learning about the other parts of plants.


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