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Do-It-Yourself Nature Crafting: Leaf Printing, Stamping and Fall Learning Fun

Updated on September 16, 2018
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Yvonne, a retired teacher/librarian, writes many teaching units, book recommendations and crafting ideas for elementary school children.

An oak leaf print on cloth using fabric paint.
An oak leaf print on cloth using fabric paint.

Fall Learning Activities and DIY Leaf Prints and Stampers

Fall is my favorite time of year and October is when true Autumn weather arrives in Louisiana. Since the leaves don't change colors as much here as they do for you up there in the northern states, we like to capture the feeling of fall with crafts.

One project which is a great culminating activity for a fall tree study unit (that both children and adults will enjoy) is making leaf prints. The leaves can still be green for this and if you use fabric paint as a medium, you can make delightful T-shirts, bags, aprons, place mats or any number of pretty fall designs that can be kept for years.

You can also use leaves and other prints or stampers on paper for scrap booking projects such as fall cards and tree study booklets in the classroom. It's easy to create your own stampers (rubber and vegetable). I'll teach you a few tricks that I've learned through the years.

Learning About Fall Leaves

Pattern of Autumn Leaves

Maple leaves changing from green to red and orange in fall.
Maple leaves changing from green to red and orange in fall. | Source

Children love to do leaf prints and it's a great way to go to the "outdoor classroom" and learn about trees. Be sure to get a good tree identification book that has clear pictures of the leaves to take along on your outing. The kids can make a list of the type of tree they came from when they go back inside.

Before the outing, give the children information about deciduous trees and the changing seasons, by reading the book: Why Do Leaves Change Color (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Betsy Maestro.

The book and the outing present “teachable moments” in which to discuss the autumn season and the process that deciduous trees go through each year when the leaves change colors and fall from the tree. Making leaf prints is an excellent hands-on culminating activity for a fall teaching unit.

Further activities using charts (such as The Facts of Fall by EcoVentures) and/or pictures showing how the leaves break down to enrich the soil will expand the children’s knowledge of the ecosystem and the microorganisms there. Examination of a compost pile will reveal the many organisms that take part in the soil cycle.

When you collect leaves for your prints, choose sturdy ones with varied shapes. Try to get ones that lay flat and leave some of the stem on them. This will help you hold the leaf without smearing the paint. Some of the leaves I like to use are:

  • Sweet Gum
  • Maple
  • Mulberry
  • Oak (there are many different ones)
  • Beech
  • Sassafras
  • Grape
  • Chinese Tallow (Hate the invasive tree, but the leaf is nice.)
  • Redbud
  • Silverbell
  • Sourwood

Why Do Leaves Change Color? (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2)
Why Do Leaves Change Color? (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2)

This delightful science book for beginning readers makes an excellent springboard for the study of trees in fall. It discusses different types of leaves and trees and how the changing seasons affect them. It can be read aloud to preschool and kindergarten children, while first and second graders should be able to read it themselves.

 

Leaf Designs

On the underside of the leaves you can feel the veins.
On the underside of the leaves you can feel the veins.

Leaf Prints

When you get home with your leaves. Put lots of newspaper on your work table. Go through the leaves and identify the underside. This is where the veins are and this is the side where you'll apply the paint. In the picture above, I have placed most of the leaves with the underside up. The Water Oak leaves in the picture above, show one of the top and one of the underside.

Next, look at the item that you want to put the prints on. Pick out leaves and place them in a pleasing design. The picture below shows part of a T-shirt that I did. I like to arrange the leaves so they look as if they are drifting down from the trees. If you have a hole or a smudge, just overlap another leaf in a darker color.

When picking your project, keep the age of the child in mind. Young children do better with larger leaves and smaller "canvases". Probably one to three leaves on a small object like a place mat would be a good project for preschool or Kindergarten children.

How to Print with Leaves

Leaf Prints
Leaf Prints

If you are doing a T-shirt, you can make your own form out of a large cardboard box. Stretch the T-shirt over the form and secure the sleeves and extra material in the back with straight pins. Don't stretch it too tight, just tight enough so that it will lay flat. You can use straight pins (like quilter's pins) to secure other cloth items to a piece of cardboard.

Place a leaf with the underside up on a piece of newspaper. Using a large watercolor brush and fabric paint color the underside of one of your leaves. You can use all one color or paint some like nature with 2 or 3. You may need to squirt small amounts of the different colors of fabric (or tempera or acrylic for paper) in a disposable plastic plate. Thin with water a little if needed. Experiment and do some test prints first before you try it on the item.

You can do a structured design, or a more natural one. Just have fun! When you are happy with your creation, lay it flat, somewhere out of the way to dry.

Besides leaves, vegetables and fruits make good stampers. Mini pumpkins cut in half are great for Halloween shirts. Apple halves make nice fall designs, too. If you are good at carving, cut a potato in half and use a paper pattern to trace a simple design onto it. Carve out all the parts that you do not want to show on the print.

Leaf Prints Video

This video gives you the basic technique for leaf printing. If you use REAL leaves you won't have the problems that this teacher and her students did.

Chickadee in Fall

The leaves of the silverbell tree are a lovely yellow and make nice prints.
The leaves of the silverbell tree are a lovely yellow and make nice prints. | Source

Autumn Leaves

Sourwood leaves are good for printing.
Sourwood leaves are good for printing. | Source

Stampers

Make Your Own Stampers

Click thumbnail to view full-size
These inexpensive precut foam shapes come in kits and packs.Just pick out the ones you like and glue them to a piece of scrap wood or other recycled block.To create your own design, draw something on paper and transfer it to a foam sheet using carbon paper.  Cut it out and stick it onto a block.Here's the little cat stamped in black.
These inexpensive precut foam shapes come in kits and packs.
These inexpensive precut foam shapes come in kits and packs.
Just pick out the ones you like and glue them to a piece of scrap wood or other recycled block.
Just pick out the ones you like and glue them to a piece of scrap wood or other recycled block.
To create your own design, draw something on paper and transfer it to a foam sheet using carbon paper.  Cut it out and stick it onto a block.
To create your own design, draw something on paper and transfer it to a foam sheet using carbon paper. Cut it out and stick it onto a block.
Here's the little cat stamped in black.
Here's the little cat stamped in black.
"Celebrate" Assorted 6 oz. 3-D Foam Sticker Bucket (FCM68582D) Category: Stickers
"Celebrate" Assorted 6 oz. 3-D Foam Sticker Bucket (FCM68582D) Category: Stickers

You can make quick and easy stampers using these and small blocks of wood. They can also be used in hands-on learning folder and lap activities for teaching counting, math, grouping, etc.

 

Home Made Stampers

A really easy and inexpensive way to make your own cute stampers is to purchase a bag or bin of those little foam cutouts. Pick out the ones you like. I like cats for Halloween, so I chose some cats and glued them to a small piece of scrap lumber. Presto, you have a stamper that will last for years.

The cat paw prints were my own design. I drew them, then used carbon paper to transfer them to a piece of compressed foam rubber. I cut them out with an exacto blade and tiny scissors. Then, glued them to a stack of tongue depressors that I had glued together.

Black Cats on an orange shirt, bag, placemat or napkin would be a cute Halloween or October gift. You could use the leaf prints and black cats on white paper bags to put favors in for a Halloween party. There are also foam ghosts available or you could just buy a piece of compressed foam and make your own designs. You don't have to use blocks of wood for the stamper. Try gluing pieces of cardboard together to form a block or use any other recycled material.

Favorite Purchased Stampers

My Favorites

Kidstamps Little Witch Stamper
Kidstamps Little Witch Stamper

When I was a school librarian, I used to drool through the Kidstamps catalog. Many of their designs are by renowned illustrators of childrens books. I tried to get at least one of their stamps for each holiday. My favorite one for Halloween (besides the dragon) is from Bruce Degen's Little Witch and the Riddle (1986).

My next favorite which could be Halloween or anytime is "Viola Swamp is Watching You" by James Marshall, also from Kidstamps. These designs can be used for a multitude of projects.

I've searched the Web and I can't find a good link for Kidstamps. I hope they fix their website soon and when they do, I'll post it here.

However, some are available on ebay! Hooray for ebay.

© 2015 Yvonne L B

Please Craft a note for us.

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    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      Tons of those Kidstamps rubber stamps at www.ridingthephoenix.com. Also tons of photos of ones they don't carry on their Kidstamps Pinterest board.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 

      7 years ago from Vermont

      So much crafty goodness here! Nice ideas on the DIY stamps - I'll remember that for Oma crafting days with my grandkids.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 

      7 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Good craft ideas here -- for any time of year, not just for Fall. :) I can envision some very interesting foam stampers could be created for home-schooled kids on a variety of subjects.

    • WhiteOak50 profile image

      WhiteOak50 

      8 years ago

      I cannot wait until Fall starts here so I can do some photography! When I was a child I use to collect fallen leaves and iron them between two pieces of wax paper and hang it on my bedroom walls. I just cannot seem to get enough of Autumn colors and decorations. Great Lens for crafts.

    • Gamganny profile image

      Gamganny 

      8 years ago

      Some really good craft ideas for the fall.

    • profile image

      bdkz 

      8 years ago

      Congratulations! You've been SquidBoo Blasted. Happy Halloween!

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 

      8 years ago from USA

      Really fun ideas here for creative crafts!

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