Leaf Rubbings: Art & Science Activity for Kids

Easy leaf rubbing project - part art and part science project as kids create a leaf collage & get a peek into the parts of a leaf!

I have always loved making leaf rubbings! 

Ever since I was a child, I was fascinated by this beautiful self-made art -- the instant 'picture' that was created just by covering a leaf with paper and running a crayon over the top.

As I grew to become a nature lover, I realized that making a leaf print is much more than just a pretty picture -- it's also a peek into the science of trees.

Leaf Rubbing with wax paper, crayons, foil, pencils and more - lesson plan for STEAM activityLeaf Rubbing Activity: Art & Science Project

Leaf rubbings (also known as leaf prints or leaf tracing) are one of those activities that almost every child tries as Autumn approaches. 

We see so many beautiful leaves covering the ground that we are drawn to capture both their shape and hue on paper.

I especially enjoy this activity in late October and November -- it's very creative and one of many fun Thanksgiving activities for kids that encourage them to get outside on those cool Fall days.  We've outlined the details on how to make a leaf rubbing, what you'll need for the project and affiliates links to a variety of supplies and books that we used for our activity.

 

Leaf Rubbing: Lesson Plan Objectives

Since this project is part art and part science, there are a few goals we have when creating leaf rubbings or leaf tracings.

 

Art Objective: To use a variety of paper types (wax paper, tracing paper, parchment paper) and explore different mediums (crayon, oil pastels, colored pencils) when creating leaf prints.

Since we've always done traditional leaf rubbings, I thought we'd venture out this year and experiment with the art form by using materials that are slightly different than the standard white paper and crayon technique. 

 

Science Objective: To learn the basic structure of a leaf, label the various parts and understand their function.

I've included some science terms below for discussion during the activity along with affiliate links to a few non-fiction books and items we used to create our prints.  The books help to explain the parts of a leaf, functions of each part and also answer other common science questions such as "why do leaves change colors".

If you're looking for additional outdoor science activities, try these 20 Outdoor Fall Science Experiments for Kids too!

 

Picture Books: Learning about Leaves

As with many of our activities, we always being with a book for inspiration!  Here are a few wonderful books to read before you begin creating your leaf rubbings:

 

Why Do Leaves Change Color? (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science, Stage 2) - easy science for young kids!  The book helps younger kids to better understanding of the true color of a leaf and why we see colors change in Autumn.

The Let's Read & Find Out Science series is one of our favorites and a great series of books that explores many science and nature areas.

 

Autumn Leaves shares an up close look at 13 different trees and leaves in a manner that's appealing to kids.  Your kids will be able to identify the leaves they use when they create their rubbings by reading & using this book!

A wonderful non-book option (perfect for tweens & teens!) would be the Fandex Family Field Guide to Trees which includes details for the leaf, bark pattern and tree seeds in one cool learning deck!

 

Awesome Autumn is one of my favorite Fall reads (it's also included on our list of 14 Favorite Fall Books for Kids too)! The pictures are beautiful and there are so many fun facts in this book -- even I learned a few new things!

Do you have kids who LOVE books?!  Join Audible and get 2 FREE audiobooks (for you or the kids ;)

 

how to make a leaf rubbing activity with art supplies and objectives for preschool, kindergarten and early elementary kids

Leaf Rubbing: Project Supplies

Here's what you'll need to get started on this activity:

We include this activity on our list of 40 Fabulous Fall Activities for Families since it's such as easy project to do and is enjoyed by all ages! 

It's also a wonderful activity to use in your classroom or home school as you explore seasonal changes, parts of a leaf or during a nature study.

 

How to Make a Leaf Rubbing

My daughter chose a different color for each of her drawing supplies and we created leaf prints for all four types of coverings. 

  • Place the leaf on a 9 x 12 Clipboard (it helps to hold everything in place as we created our prints)
  • Cover the leaf with each type of paper you are using for the activity
  • Slowly, use each medium (crayons, colored pencils and oil pastels) and rub it over the top of the paper to see the outline and details of the leaf

There are SO many ways to do this activity!

Feel free to mix and match your papers and drawing supplies in any way you'd like to for the project. 

For example, you might use oil pastels with all three types of paper to examine how the leaf print looks different based on the type of paper.

You can also use all three drawing tools (crayons, oil pastels and colored pencils) on one piece of paper to create a more layered leaf collage!

Or mix and match your favorites like we did!

 

Leaf rubbings on wax paper with oil pastel - great STEAM project

Leaf Rubbing on Wax Paper

First we used an orange Oil Pastel Stick on the wax paper

Wax paper has a glossy surface and the oil pastel compliments it nicely. 

It really looks like a 'wet' print when you're finished.

 

Leaf rubbings with colored pencil on tracing paper | Edventures with Kids

Leaf Tracing with Colored Pencils

On our tracing paper, she chose to use a yellow colored pencil. 

With colored pencils, you only need to apply light pressure as you rub the side of the tip across the paper.  If you push too hard, the pencil will rip the paper.

And let kids get creative -- if they want a purple or rainbow leaf rubbing, great!

 

Leaf printing with crayons on parchment paper - easy Fall craft for kids!

Leaf Printing with Crayons

We used red crayon to create a leaf print on the parchment paper. 

This was my favorite as I think it captured the most detail in the leaf. 

You can find parchment paper in rolls (similar to tin foil) or buy flat sheets of parchment paper which is easier if you're doing this activity with a group!

But I will warn you, parchment paper in it's nature is a non-stick material -- which also means that most tape and glue won't work with it if you are hoping to display the print. 

We did find out that you can tape the edges of the print to a window but it would not adhere to other pieces of paper.

 

Leaf Print with tin foil | Edventures with Kids

Leaf Prints on Foil (aka - Leaf Relief)

When we used the aluminum foil, we just ran the side of a pencil over the leaf. 

Our goal was to create a raised leaf print instead of a colored print. 

It was a nice change-up since you can feel the maze of veins from the leaf.  This is really for more science exploration than art.

 

Leaf rubbings using different Art materials | Edventures with Kids

How to Make a Leaf Rubbing Collage

Here are all three prints displayed with our leaf to make a leaf collage.  You can also create a collage using one large piece of paper with different coloring items.

Or use all three colored items on each type of paper (so you would have a leaf collage on wax paper that includes a crayon leaf tracing, a colored pencil leaf tracing and an oil pastel leaf tracing).

If your kids enjoy this crafty activity, they might also like this Leaf Scratch Art Kit too!

 

The Science of Leaves

As you create the leaf prints, talk to your kids about the various parts and functions of a leaf. 

The broad flat part of the leaf is called it's blade.

The lines that run through the blade are the leaf's veins.  Veins carry food and water to the tree. 

The stalk of the leaf is called a petiole. 

 

The Science of Leaf Prints | Edventures with Kids

If your kids are curious of leaves, try this How does a Leaf Breathe? experiment which can be done in the backyard or classroom!

 

Many kids will usually ask--

Why is a leaf green?

Leaves contain chlorophyll, which has a green pigment.  Chlorophyll is the substance that absorbs sunlight to use in photosynthesis (the process of turning carbon dioxide and water into food for the tree).

 

Why do leaves change colors?

In Autumn, when the days get shorter and colder, the tree knows that winter is coming.  Since there is not enough sunlight and water available during winter, the tree goes into a resting period where it will stop producing food. 

When chlorophyll stops being made, the green color fades and we see the other colors that have always been in the leaf.  This question is also addressed in detail in the book Why Do Leaves Change Color? with beautiful illustrations that highlight the ideas!

If you have green leaves that haven't changed color, you can use chromatography paper for an experiment to test and see what color the leaf will be when chlorophyll is no longer made!

 

Leaf Print Experiment |Edventures with Kids

Hang your leaf prints on a window and let the kids get a good look at them. 

You might want to have them look at the leaf itself and then the print so they can compare what they see.  Plus, it's adds a touch of Fall to any room!

 

 

 

Here's a quick video with all the details on this project -- perfect to show to kids before you get started!

 

More Leaf Activities for Kids

We're Going on a Leaf (Scavenger) Hunt with FREE printable cards

18 Leaf Experiments & Leaf Crafts for Fall

How to Make Leaf Prints

 

Plus -- Fall Family BINGO Activities {free printable}

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Kids Books about Life in the Forest
15 Fabulous Books about Forest Animals