Lesson: Learning with Leaves

Author: Sarah Pounders


This pre-K activity guides you in using leaves as a tool for practicing basic math skills and introducing some plant science concepts.

Objective: To use leaves as a tool for practicing basic math skills. Materials:

  • A variety of leaves
  • Plastic bags
  • Paper plates
  • Cardstock shape cutouts (circles, ovals, squares, triangles, hearts, and stars)
  • Small blocks, stones, or dried beans
  • Paper
  • PaintLaying the GroundworkTake a nature walk in your backyard or schoolyard and collect a variety of leaves and place in a plastic bag. Note: You do not need to add any moisture to the bag to preserve the leaves for the activity, and in fact adding water or moist paper towels may speed up the decay process.
    leaf sets 067-003
    leaf sets 067-003 (Photo credit: jacki-dee)


    1. Working in groups or as individuals, give each child 5 to 10 different leaves. Begin by counting the leaves.

    2. Next, ask students to group the leaves with similar shapes and place them on separate paper plates. Compare the leaf shapes to the cardstock cutouts. Give students time to share any matches they find.

    3. Arrange the leaves by size from smallest to largest. To quantify the size differences, ask children to see how many blocks will fit on top of each leaf. Older kids can go a step further and outline each leaf with dried pinto beans and compare the length of the perimeter of each leaf based on the number of beans needed. Which leaves have the longest perimeter?

Making Connections

4. Make paint prints of leaf by dipping individual leaves in paint and then making an impression on a piece of paper. Or, place leaves underneath a piece of paper and make rubbings using crayons. Both prints and rubbings will draw attention to leaf veins. Talk about veins and what they do (transport water and food throughout a plant).

5. Ask kids if they have ever seen a plant buying food at a grocery store. Explain to them that plants actually make their own food using ingredients they get from the soil and atmosphere (air, water, sunlight) and that the leaves contain the plant’s “food factories.”

Branching Out

  • Ask kids to sort leaves by additional characteristics such as edges, colors, or vein patterns.
  • Talk about how leaves change during the year. Let each child adopt a tree (preferably adeciduous tree) and observe it on a monthly basis. Ask them to keep a pictorial tree journal of the seasonal changes.

Download the PDF here.