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Fall Leaves


Fall Leaves

By Bethany Caldwell, Science Educator

It’s fall y’all! The weather is cooler, fall sports begin and apple orchards and pumpkin patches are filled with sweatered cider sippers. One of the best things about fall, though, is when the leaves change color, turning Tennessee into a kaleidoscope of deep reds, bright yellows and rich oranges. There’s nothing better than raking up a huge pile of leaves in your yard and diving in to the crunchy, colorful mess! Explore the fun of fall leaves with this DIY activity to get you ready for the colder weather.


  • Coffee Filters
  • Pencil
  • Makers
  • Cup of Water
  • Leaves (Collect them from your yard or print off a pattern here!)
  • Scissors


Take your leaf or leaf stencil and trace it out onto the coffee filter with your pencil. Carefully cut out the shape using your scissors and, using a marker of your choice, color in the very center of your leaf, leaving the center uncolored, like a donut! Then, fold the leaf in half three (3) times with one end pointed like a fan. Dip the pointed end of the filter into the cup of water and watch as the color travels up and up! Set aside and let dry for a while (perhaps go jump in those leaves we were talking about). Then, unfold and reveal your colorful masterpiece!


The process of the color moving away from the center is called chromatography. This is a big word with a simple definition – color runs through water! Lots of scientists and researchers use this process to help understand our world a bit better. We’re also exploring the chemistry behind the changes of the leaves each fall. Did you know that the red, orange and yellow colors we see each Autumn are always present in the leaves? These colors are revealed when the sun is gone for extended periods of time, leaving the trees without the energy they need to make food, causing the green to fade and the warmer tones to emerge. Isn’t our planet fantastic?!

Further Exploration

  • Go outside! Try to find different types of leaves in your backyard, in the park or at your friend’s house. Use this handy field guide to identify each leaf.
  • Sensory activity: Walk outside and close your eyes. Can you tell it’s fall by smelling, feeling and hearing? What are you noticing that makes fall different from the other seasons?
  • Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for regular DIY updates and even more awesome science!




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