October 9, 2011

Kid Tracks: Leaves preserve memories of fall outings

By Wendy Almeida walmeida@mainetoday.com
Assistant News Editor/Features

When the fall colors start emerging on trees, the leaves become irresistible collectibles for kids.

click image to enlarge

Crayon rubbings of leaves, like this one of a hornbeam leaf, can be part of a tree identification project.

Wendy Almeida photo

When my girls were preschoolers we'd take a short hike and end up with a big stack of leaves collected off the ground that just had to be brought home.

Once the pretty colored leaves made their way into our house, the kids would ask me to help make something out of them. This prompted me to find some creative seasonal crafts that, even as teens, the girls still enjoy doing at this time of year.

Wax pressing: This technique I learned as a child is still one of the easiest, low-tech ways to preserve the colors of fall in their most natural state.

Put a flat leaf between two pieces of wax paper. The wax paper should be about a half-inch larger than the leaf around the perimeter. Lay a thin dishcloth over the wax paper (thin cloth is key to ensuring even, low heat during pressing).

Use an iron on a low heat setting and iron over the cloth, being sure to gently press the iron over the entire leaf.

Some people prefer to seal the edges of wax paper with the leaf inside. My kids don't like the look of the leaf in the wax paper, so they take the leaf out. There is a thin layer of wax left on the leaf when removed from the wax paper and this is what helps preserves it.

But I should mention that ironing leaves is a semi-smelly business. The heated leaf offers up an earthy smell that takes a while to dissipate.

My kids like to make collages with the leaves and put them in matted glass frames. It offers a nice finished look and preserves the leaves for at least a couple of seasons.

Crayon rubbings: The girls got into leaf rubbings when they were in elementary school. I waited to introduce this method, because it can be tricky to make a rubbing.

The only items required for rubbing are lightweight, white paper and thick crayons with the paper label removed (the larger, toddler crayons work great if you have them).

After the kids find a leaf they like, help them find a flat surface. If we're out on the trail, we look for a big rock that is a bit larger than the leaf they want to rub. When around home, a cement step works great.

Put the leaf on the rock and place the paper over it. Mom or Dad can help by holding two corners of the paper to keep it and the leaf in place. Without parental help, kids can get frustrated with the blurry image that results from the leaf moving around as the crayon is rubbed on the paper.

I always tried to pack a full array of colors in the kids' backpacks to ensure a varied ensemble of rubbings to bring home from the trail.

For older kids in need of a science project for school -- or for Scouts or 4-H displays -- my daughters can attest that a poster of leaf identifications with the rubbings can be colorful and informative.

Leaf impressions: This is a simple way to create art with leaves. You only a need a piece of white cotton fabric and some fabric paint that can be applied with a paint brush.

Kids simply collect a mix of leaf shapes and sizes. Then they paint the surface of a leaf and place it on the fabric paint-side down. Encourage the kids to apply pressure around all of the leaf's edges to get a clear definition of the shape.

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