I’m a little late on this, as with most things, but, um, pin it for next year? My plan for our school year was to focus on settling in during the first couple of weeks, then to focus in our group times and with some themed work, on fire safety to give some context to our first required fire drill. After that, we’d move on to some work focusing on leaves. If all had gone according to plan, we would have started our leaf study in late September, but as some of you know, our first school day didn’t even end up being until late September because, well, licensing is a process. It works out to be great timing in our corner of the world, however, because we’re a couple weeks into our leaf adventures in the classroom, and the trees here seem to have hit the absolute peak of their beauty only just now. I was in complete awe as I drove around today, running my usual errands. I just could not stop staring at the gorgeous fall colors.
Without further ado, here are some photos to give you an idea of how we’ve been exploring leaves in our classroom so far. In addition to what you see here, we’ve been enjoying some favorite leaf-related children’s books from years past, and have discovered some wonderful new favorites. I’ll share those in a separate post later this week.
Before we really talked about leaves in specific or scientific terms, I put new work in the classroom to facilitate the Care of Plants, an important part of the Practical Life curriculum. These were a huge hit, and had the children attentive to the leaves on the plants in our classroom before we really began to dig deeper. I know that the idea of placing a stick in plants that need watering, and taking it out to indicate that the plant doesn’t need any more is not my original idea, but I can’t for the life of me remember where I saw it. If this is your idea, will you let me know so I can credit you? For our leaf washing set-up, I turned to The Movable Alphabet for inspiration. Children get just a tiny bit of water using the little creamer, then pour it into the shallow dish (a ramekin), and take a cotton ball from the little stainless steel container, dip it in water, and use it to clean the leaves of their chosen plant. Soiled cotton balls go in the third dish, to be taken to the wastebasket at the end of the work, and drips are cleaned with the sponge. Almost every child who did this work in the first week used all six or so cotton balls in the container at one sitting.
I should tell you about the watering can that we’re currently using, too, as it could hardly be more perfect. The hardest part of watering plants in the classroom is helping enthusiastic young gardeners avoid over-watering. The sticks in each plant help prevent the same plant from being watered over and over, but I have always had trouble with single waterings, too, because pouring is fun, and water comes out quickly. The spout on this watering can is very small, controlling the flow, and it also comes with a removable sprinkler tip, which I personally just leave on all the time. There has been a whole lot of watering in our classroom, but no puddles in any of our plants since I started using our beloved green watering can. It seemed a little pricey compared to some of the small watering cans available elsewhere, but I definitely do not regret spending the few extra dollars.
Outdoors, we did a lot of leaf raking. In addition to our bamboo children’s rake, I’ve been keeping my rake on hand during our outside times so that the children and I can work together to make big leaf piles for jumping in or leaping over. Perfect autumn fun! This rake is a great size for the preschoolers, but it’s lightweight enough for even Elliot (15 months) to use, which is great. He loves it, too :)
I also mod podged (that is a verb, right? ;) some leaves from our neighborhood for this matching work. I really wanted to create work with real leaves in their real form more so than card work, but this activity has not been a hit. I have a few ideas on why. First, the leaves still got a bit crunchy and wrinkly despite the mod podge, which makes them less than attractive to work with. Second, it’s really not possible to find two leaves that are exactly identical to one another, so matching fall leaves presents a special challenge that may have been frustrating for some children. I have some leaves in books right now, pressing for next time, and I also got the idea from Rachel at Racheous to laminate leaves, so I’ll give that a go if pressing alone doesn’t eliminate the crunch factor. I had selected and mod podged leaves for a big, medium, and small work as well, but never did put it together after the flop that was this pairing.
Then again, maybe our bunch just is not into pairing, because no one cared to finish this matching activity either, also a Montessori Print Shop download. I loved how it turned out, and expected it to be a favorite. Not so much. Surely there are children out there who would love it, though. I do have a small sample size, after all.
I also created this matching game, with two of each leaf, for two children to use together in the classic memory game style.
Central to any leaf study in the Montessori classroom, of course, is the Botany Cabinet. The mom of one of the children in our class just happened to have this beautiful, old botany cabinet tucked away in a closet from a school liquidation sale some time ago, and she has kindly loaned it to me, figuring her son will get more use out of it in the classroom anyhow. Isn’t it lovely!? Some time ago on etsy, I happened upon these gorgeous pencil cups at a shop called botanicraft and, even though I didn’t have a botany cabinet yet, I knew I had to have them, because eventually I would and there could be no more perfect vessel for botany cabinet materials, really. Don’t you agree?
Traditionally, the leaf shapes inside the botany cabinet are traced by the child using a stylus. This is both a sensory experience and an indirect preparation for pencil control and writing. I didn’t have a stylus, much less multiple, just sitting around, but I found a brilliant, inexpensive hack thanks to a clever man at the craft store. I took small wooden dowels, and created a point on one end of each using a pencil sharpener. They’re perfect! Those are what you see in the cup to the left in the photo. The paper tray in the back holds laminated control charts and leaf shape cards which I made using files from Montessori Print Shop. Considering the amount of time I put in (hours!) cutting and laminating and then cutting again, while looking at the cards available from nienhuis and considering how quality I know those cards are, I think I’d just order them if I had it to do over again, but that’s okay.
I also used Montessori Print Shop downloads to make Leaf Shapes and Leaves work (left) and 3 Part Cards for the Botany Cabinet Shapes. The Leaf Shapes and Leaves work is designed to be three part cards, but it seemed like so many cards, especially for my group, so I used the control cards only to make a sorting work where the child matches images of actual plants and leaves exhibiting each leaf shape with an image of the shape itself, as seen in the botany cabinet. This is still a lot of card, and it’s tricky, since the difference between some of the shapes is rather subtle, so I took care to put an obvious control on the back of each card, and I started by putting out only the cards corresponding with the first drawer. The others I have right on hand in case a child should appear to be interested enough to enjoy them. I used felt and embroidery floss to stitch little envelopes for each work. I am by no means a seamstress, so these are very imperfect, but they’re a great, inexpensive solution for holding these materials that I will likely use again in the future.
This leaf puzzle from Montessori Services isolates each of the parts of the leaf, and is a great accompaniment to the materials shown below. It can be done alone, or with cards. I created the control chart simply by tracing the pieces onto paper and laminating, since the puzzle does not come with a control of its own. It’s a beautiful, well made puzzle that I am definitely pleased to have invested in.
I also made these 3 Part Cards for the parts of a leaf, using two sets of the Parts of the Leaf Cards from Montessori Services. These ones are shown in their 3 Part Tray, which I seem to have ordered the “control on right” version of by mistake, hence the incorrect placement of the word cards, which is really irking me. So I’ll have to see about exchanging that. Fortunately they do returns and exchanges.
I picked up their Parts of the Leaf Definition Booklet as well, which is wonderful.
Of course, our leaf work extends to the art shelves as well. Stamping work with leaves is a popular choice. Rubber stamps and ink pad from a craft store, and tray from Montessori Services. All of the trays on our art shelf are blue.
To our play dough tray (orange dough in the light blue container), I added a dish of leaves that the children can press into rolled dough to make imprints, as well as a selection of leaf shaped cutters.
We also have simple cutting strips (Montessori Print Shop Download) with autumn leaf images on our cutting tray.
Instead of pieces of paper, I added real autumn leaves, the most beautiful of which the children have been helping me collect outside for our work, to our gluing tray. This has been a big hit, and inspired new interest in gluing work.
This basket has all of the materials, minus the paper which is collected from the paper tray, for leaf rubbing. The masking tape allows the child to tape their paper on top of the leaf and onto the table so that it doesn’t slide around while they’re rubbing. I love crayon rocks for rubbing, too. They’re the perfect shape.
This is a leaf printing activity. The child takes a piece of paper from the art shelf to their work space. They then select a leaf and place it on the center tray, then use paint from the white jar to paint the underside of the leaf. The leaf is then pressed on the paper to make a “print.” The leaf is discarded when the child is finished (they’ll collect more outside), and the tray used for painting is washed. I think every classroom needs one (or more) of these large “creativitrays.” I use one for our easel set-up as well.
And that’s what the exploration of leaves looks like in our small classroom. What would you add, take away, or change? Any favorite leaf art projects in your home or school? Check back later this week to hear about our favorite leaf books, and share your own suggestions!
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