Fall changes in trees bring science and art together

Alternating red and yellow maple leaves arranged in a circle.The colors of the autumn leaves in my area call out to me for attention and to bring inside in a basket for the kitchen table. Outside I arrange them into patterns pleasing to myself. While making this ephemeral art with natural materials, artists may notice details about the materials that we might otherwise overlook—the veins visible on both sides of the leaf but bulging above the surface on one side and within the surface on the other side.

Children tape leaves to a wall to make a graph by leaf shape.

Child's drawing of a leaf with labels of leaf parts and sentences,

This leaf structure shows clearly in leaf rubbings and prints.  Leaf collections and drawings provide interesting mathematical and literacy tasks–counting and graphing, learning new vocabulary and writing.

Teachers can model using natural materials for creative purposes. Do you draw in the sandbox, arrange pebbles in shapes, gather sticks and build or hit them together to make a rhythm? Maybe you throw leaves into the air and dance among them as they fall or pretend to be the river and flow as you walk the school grounds.

Andy Goldsworthy is an artist who creates works with natural materials and photographs them. It is hard to describe the fascinating beauty of his work. It is further revealed in a movie about his work, Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time (2001), directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer. I watched this movie in parts, each time I had a short break from work on a non-teaching day. It was relaxing to watch someone else work and fascinating to see his choices as he worked with natural materials of wood, ice, stone and water to create a sculpture that often fell apart within a short period of time. The work is often meant to be temporary—it’s part of his plan.

I wonder what young children would think of his work. While I would not plan for the children to watch the 90-minute film, I’d like to see if any would choose to watch for short periods of time if I had it playing during a work/free-play/centers time. Like pictures of interesting architecture hung in the block area to inspire children to take risks and try new build strategies, a book of Andy Goldsworthy photographs taken outside might inspire new uses of natural materials. What can you do with a red maple leaf?


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