Colorful Leaves

Children will learn about the changing colors of leaves.


Lesson Objective

Children will learn about leaves and how the change of season in the fall affects their color.


What You'll Need

  • Fresh green leaves – 16 (What to Do #1)
  • Colorful leaves from trees – no limit (What to Do #1)
  • Baby food jars with lids – 8
  • Rubbing alcohol – 2 bottles
  • 9” x 13” shallow pan
  • White paper coffee filters cut into 1”x3” strips – 8 (enough for 1 per jar)
  • Plastic knife
  • Tape
  • Hot water

What To Do


This activity includes a walk outside and several hours of classroom time. Keep the lid tight on the alcohol and the container away from the children until you are ready to use it. 

When you are pouring the rubbing alcohol into the jars, be sure that the children are sitting quietly and not near you. 

When the jars are resting in the hot water, place the pan out of the reach of the children.

  1. Take a walk outside with the children and collect a variety of green, orange, red, and yellow leaves. You will need at least two green leaves for each jar (16 total).
  2. Let the children examine the leaves and discuss the different colors (see Guiding Student Inquiry).
  3. Collect the green leaves. (In this experiment, you will remove the color from green leaves.)
  4. Put the children in small groups and give each group a jar and two green leaves. Help the children tear each leaf into very small pieces and put them in the jars.
  5. Add rubbing alcohol to the jars, making sure to cover the leaf pieces.
  6. Using a plastic knife, chop and grind the leaves in the alcohol.
  7. Cover the jars very loosely with the lids.
  8. Fill the pan with one inch of hot tap water. Carefully place the jars in the pan.
  9. Twirl each jar gently once every 5 minutes and replace the hot water if it cools down. Keep the jars in the water for at least 30 minutes or until the alcohol changes color (the darker the better).
  10. Take the jars out of the water and remove the lids.
  11. Tape one end of a strip of filter paper to the inside of each jar lid. Cover each jar so that the other end of the paper is inside the alcohol. (The alcohol will travel up the paper, bringing the colors with it.)
  12. After two hours or more, there should be different shades of green on the filter paper and possibly some yellow, orange, or red, depending on the leaf. Discuss what is happening (see Did You Know).

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • What is a leaf? Where can we find leaves?
  • Describe the leaf – how does it feel, smell, look?
  • Explain how the green leaves are similar to and different from the brown, orange, yellow, and red leaves.
  • Describe what happens to the leaves on the trees in the fall.
  • What do you think will happen when we put the leaves in the rubbing alcohol?
  • What do you think would happen if we put different colored leaves in rubbing alcohol?

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • Collect leaves weekly throughout the season. Discuss the colors and document the children’s observations each week. You can preserve the leaves, take photographs of them, or have the children draw pictures of what they see. The children will be able to observe the gradual changes that occur in leaves as the season progresses.
  • Different trees have different types of leaves (or needles). Place a variety of leaves and needles in the discovery center. Include magnifying glasses, safety scissors, and other tools that allow the children to explore and examine the leaves. Include pictures of the types of trees from which the leaves came and have the children match each leaf to its tree.
  • Add leaves to your art center. Include paper, glue, safety scissors, and other items that allow the children to use the leaves creatively.

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Was each child able to collect some leaves outside?
  • Could each child name the colors of the leaves?
  • Could the children talk about possible reasons why leaves fall off trees in the fall?


Did You Know?

The leaves of certain types of trees change color and fall off during the fall. There are many different colors in plant leaves. When you look at a leaf, you see the result of all the colors mixing together. In the spring and summer, trees use chlorophyll to make food from sunlight. Chlorophyll gives leaves their green color. As summer progresses into fall, there is less sunlight, so the growing process slows down and the trees stop making chlorophyll. Without chlorophyll, leaves lose their green color, and the other colors that are present in the leaves (red, orange, and yellow) become visible.

The experiment we performed dissolved the different colors in the leaves and allowed them to be absorbed by the coffee filter. The alcohol worked to dissolve the colors, and the heat from the water was the energy that helped the alcohol to work. The red, orange, and yellow colors in leaves break down more slowly than the green does. The fibers in the coffee filter trapped the colors as they spread up the strip of paper. The process allowed the different colors to be absorbed at different rates and caused the colors to separate.

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • fall — a season of the year between summer and winter; fall is also called autumn.
  • tree — a plant with a main trunk and many branches; some trees grow very tall.
  • leaf — a flat growth from the stem or branch of a tree or plant; a leaf is usually green.
  • leaves — plural of leaf; more than one leaf.
  • chlorophyll — the green matter in the leaves and stems of plants that absorbs sunlight to produce food; chlorophyll is necessary for food production.
  • Sun — the star that is nearest to the Earth; the Earth travels around the Sun. The Earth receives heat and light from the Sun.

Lesson Tips

  • Closely monitor the water in the pans. When it cools, be sure to replace it with hot water.
  • Green leaves from maple trees work best for this experiment, but encourage the children to collect leaves from different trees.


  • A Tree is a Plant by Clyde Robert Bulla
  • Be a Friend to Trees by Patricia Lauber
  • Leaves by David Ezra Stein
  • The Leaves on the Trees by Thom Wiley

Home School Resources

Home educators: use these printable lesson PDFs to teach this lesson to your home schoolers. They're available in English and Spanish.

Home/School Connections

Las Conexiones a la Casa

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Content Provided By

Common Core State Standards Initiative – These lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards ("CCSS"). The CCSS provide a consistent, clear understanding of the concepts and skills children are expected to learn and guide teachers to provide their students with opportunities to gain these important skills and foundational knowledge [1]. Visit the CCSS