Saskatoon is so beautiful in the fall and being outside during this time has me thinking about what I was doing last-year at this moment. I was doing a fall colour inquiry of course! I was very fortunate at my school to have an Outdoor Learning Space literally connected to my classroom! I know, it was amazing! I could walk outside with the children pretty much whenever we wanted to and jump into some exploration and learning outdoors. It was perfect to have in the fall, we were really able to observe weather changes and also changes in the environment directly in front of us.
Our inquiry began when the leaves started to fall. The children kept bringing leaves in from outside, wanting to show me how the crunched or had changed colour. They were fascinated. These sweet gifts consisted of yellow, green, red, and orange leaves. The children had begun a complete fascination with the changing colour of leaves. Of course, I saw this as an opportunity for learning! I started reading books to the children about fall, leaf pigmentation, and the change of seasons. This intrigued them even further. We decided to go find some leaves on the school grounds to find out and answer the question we were all pondering: “What’s in a leaf that makes it that colour?”
I decided to set up a little invitation with some rocks, blank paper, and a pile of leaves. Some children shared stories about how they had once squished a green leaf and some green “juice” came out of it, or how we had all experienced a grass stain on our clothes. But what happens if the colour changes? Will we still see it? We had learned that the pigmentation of leaves that are green is called chlorophyll. Leaves used this to create food for the tree. Chlorophyll is the “strongest” and what the tree needs the most of, so it covers up the other colours that already exist in the leaf. Carotenoid is the yellow or orange pigmentation and anthocyanins add the red colour. Trees produce less chlorophyll the less sunlight there is and eventually stops making it all together. Then the other pigmentation in the leaves can show through.
The children started getting the pigment from the leaves out first by choosing leaves that were still “juicy.” They then picked the perfect rock to start hitting the leaf to get the pigment to stain the paper. The children experimented with leaves that were from a variety of trees (already fallen to the ground) and leaves that were in different stages of losing their chlorophyll. Thank goodness we had the outdoor learning space, because this was a very noisy job!
The hands on learning that took place that day was incredible. I saw students engaged in their learning, sharing conversations with peers about their discovery and having exciting talks with adults about why we were learning about leaves. These children surprised me each day with their eagerness and excitement in the classroom. Their joy for learning is contagious and shows me why I became a teacher.
But of course, we couldn’t stop there. This discussion of leaves and colour, really was trickling down into our other learning adventures. We were still learning about colours, and the children had just finished creating their colour wheel and charts that were now proudly hung on the classroom walls. So it was only natural that they wanted to sort the leaves that they had been gathering over the last few days in colour categories. I got them some large construction paper and let them at it! I always find that it’s best to stand back and let kids be free for a moment. I love listening to the little conversations and want them to feel some independence in the task. It was exciting to hear them talk about and notice right away the shades of colours. This was a concept they had recognized in our previous discovery with colour and they were making a connection here as well.
I also made sure to read them the story Leaf Man. Well, this really got them talking. I barely made it through the book before a few of the children blurted out that we needed to make our own leaf men! Yes we do! And of course we did! They were hung proudly in the hall, and we wrote a simple little text as a class that explained how the leaf man came to be in our classroom. The children helped with some documentation of this project, displaying it beside our work in the hallway (fall colour charts and leaf man pictures).
I believe it’s very important for the children to have ownership in the documentation process. They get the opportunity to reflect on the learning that took place, and it helps to shape future projects and allows them to make a deeper and more meaningful connection.
Oh fall! You are a mesmerizing and beautiful. Take your students or children outside and explore this magnificent beauty in nature.