Lead students on a walk through a wooded area, schoolyard, local park, or neighborhood sidewalk to look for signs of fall and investigate why leaves of deciduous trees change color.
- Point out the differences between deciduous and evergreen trees.
- Ask students to look for signs that indicate winter is approaching and have them record their observations in a science notebook (opens as a PDF) – encourage students to look for animal signs as well (e.g., birds migrating, squirrels storing nuts).
Encourage critical thinking by asking:
- What signs of fall can you see in the trees and on the ground?
- How many different leaf colors can you find?
- How do leaves change after they fall?
- What will happen to the leaves?
Why Do Leaves Change Color?
With fall’s colder temperatures and shorter days, the cells of deciduous tree leaves begin to die. The dead cells block water and nutrients from the leaf. Chlorophyll, the green pigment in the leaves, breaks down and the yellow and red pigments begin to show through.
Native Americans had legends to explain the fall colors. Invite students to create their own imaginative stories.
Iowa Fall Color information:
- Download this PDF from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
- Fall Color Report from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Project WILD activities that leaf color can be the springboard to fall activities:
- Bird Song Survey – Fall (and spring) bird migration is a good time to survey what birds live in your area full-time or use your area as a stop-over / stop-through in their seasonal migration.
- Lights Out! – Does light pollution impact wildlife?
- Migration Barriers – The changing color of leaves reminds us that many animals migrate annually from summer to winter ranges. This activity focuses on deer migration.
- Monarch Marathon – This activity will help you simulate monarch migration!
- Plan now to participate in Iowa State University Extension Monarchs on the Move program!