Teachers and parents can collaborate to get children to rake autumn leaves while participating in a series of imaginative projects that encourage writing and language development.
There are messages to be made with leaves.
Magnolia messages. The large waxy evergreen leaves of Southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, have a leathery undersurface covered in rusty fuzz. This undersurface makes an ideal writing surface for brief messages in the form of invitations, birthday and get-well greetings, thank-you notes, riddles and limericks, memos and poems. Magnolia leaves preserve well if pressed and dried between absorbent material such as newspapers or telephone books.
Leafy letters. While raking leaves, look for the large specimens from sycamore, sweet gum, yellow poplar, maples and oaks, including white, southern red, swamp chestnut, post and blackjack. Press and dry the leaves as with magnolias.
Leafy letters are personal letters written on leaf stationery, either directly on the leaf, around the perimeter of the leaf or atop a leaf rubbing. If the leaf is the stationery, the child prints his final proofed copy of the letter directly onto the leaf's surface.
Sometimes the leafy letter is a science project about the leaf. Words describing the leaf's color, size, shape and texture can be printed around the edges of the leaf or upon a template of the leaf. Children trace the shape of a leaf onto construction paper, cut out the construction-paper leaf and print the leaf's description on the paper model.
A leaf rubbing is a representation clearly showing the vein pattern and leaf margin. Placing the undersurface of the leaf face up on a solid surface and covering the leaf with newsprint or copy paper, children use the side of a crayon to rub over the leaf's surface to see an imprint of the veins and edges of the leaf. The rubbing becomes the stationery, and the veins can be used as lines for the leafy letter.
Pine straw poetry. The loblolly pine contains three needles per sheath, making it an ideal leaf for creating haiku and other descriptive poems. Longleaf pine also has three needles per sheath, and each needle is almost twice as long as the needles on the loblolly, offering a longer writing surface.
If pine needles clusters can be anchored upon marker boards or magnetic walls, children can use portable words to fashion poems. Otherwise, have children make crayon rubbings of the needles and form poems on the needle lines. Initial poems might describe the pine tree from which the needles came.
Leaf-printing on muslin. A leaf-printing activity leads to a particular type of procedural writing. The project calls for a collection of pressed dry leaves and pieces of muslin cut into 15- by 20- inch pieces. Children paint the undersurface of leaves with tempera or acrylic paint. After they position the painted leaf surface upon the muslin, they lay a sheet of dry newspaper over the leaf and firmly roll the leaf with a brayer. This procedure continues until the entire muslin surface is patterned with leaves.
Hang fabric pieces to dry thoroughly before laminating both sides to create a place mat for the child's home table. Trim the edges of the place mat with a paper cutter or pinking shears. Children can sew yarn fringe along the edges.
After the place mat has been created, ask each child to write "How to Make a Leaf Print Place Mat" so someone else could follow the directions.
Filling a pine cone with words. Pine cones are useful in many ways, but for the teacher and parent, they can be a resource for helping children compile a repository of words for use in writing.
Pine cones make excellent portable word holders. As children sort, classify and describe autumn leaves, their words can be printed on 3- by 5-inch index cards and inserted between the scales on the cone to be used later in story writing and message making.
The National Council of Teachers of English sponsors the National Day on Writing on Oct. 20. The Carolina Children's Garden is offering two children's nature writing workshops: one at 3:30 p.m. for children ages 8 and younger and one at 4:30 p.m. for ages 9 and older. Pre-registration is required; send an e-mail to Chanda Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The program is sponsored by a grant from the Richland County Conservation Commission. Garden education programs are presented by the S.C. Midlands Master Gardeners Association in cooperation with the Richland County Master Gardeners Association.