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A Walk in the Woods: Leaf Activities for Kids

A fall hike along a backcountry trail engages the mind and the senses, but it's also just plain fun.

Photography: John Kernick

Source: Martha Stewart Living, November 2007


When I was a child, my parents liked to take my brother and me on nature walks. I usually resisted at first, preferring to stay at home, surrounded by my toys. But in the end, I always gave in, and every time I was happy I did. There's something magical about entering the quiet, covered forest. Plus, I loved to draw, so the natural sights offered a feast of inspiration.

Kids today seem to have even more reasons to stay indoors, as technology continues its speedy evolution. That may make it harder to get them outside, but the contrast only heightens the experience once they're in nature.

Mid-autumn is the perfect time to plan a nature walk. In most parts of the country, the air is crisp but not too chilly, and the woods are awash in brilliant oranges, reds, and golds. As with any family outing, a little planning can go a long way. First and foremost, choose a hike that the kids can handle. And, of course, pack plenty of water and snacks. Once the basics are covered, think of ways to make the excursion even more enjoyable, perhaps by adding in a scavenger hunt. The chart will get you started, and we've thought up a few other activities. Before you depart, talk to your kids about the importance of leaving the trail as you found it. I doubt they'll mind. After all, the memories of their woodsy adventure will last a lifetime.

Fallen leaves can be used as a prop for a photograph or added to a field notebook. A leaf wreath inspired by British artist Andy Goldsworthy. Learning to read a trail map sharpens a young person's sense of direction.

Hikers refuel with sandwiches, soup, and apples; remember to bring a bag for trash. Trail mix is a tasty, high-energy snack; pack a few handfuls per person.

Maple-Almond-Banana Trail Mix Recipe

Leaf Varieties

1. Swamp white oak
2. Ash leaflet
3. Elm
4. English oak
5. White oak
6. Black gum
7. Kentucky coffee tree leaflet
8. Black locust
9. Sumac
10. Red oak
11. Sugar maple
12. Virginia creeper leaflet
13. Sassafras
14. Birch
15. White oak
16. Bradford' pear
17. Pin oak
18. Sassafras
19. Willow
20. Sweet gum
21. Smoke bush
22. Maidenhair fern
23. Redbud


  • Resealable plastic bag to carry leaves and other finds

  • Field guide for identifying species of trees in the forest

  • Homemade leaf press for bringing collected leaves home

  • Magnifying lens to inspect specimens up close

  • Colored pencils or crayons for bark rubbings and labeling leaves (don't forget a sharpener)

  • Field notebook and eraser for notes, rubbings, and sketches

  • Bag and binoculars to carry gear and spy on birds and wildlife (a bag in a bright color is less likely to be left behind)

  • Compass to make following the trail map easier

  • Blanket for laying out provisions at lunchtime


  1. Tree rubbings can be done directly in a field notebook using the side of a colored pencil or a crayon. Bark results in textured patterns while leaves reveal distinctive vein structures; the rubbings can be displayed at home in small frames. Fallen seedpods and acorns can be examined, illustrated in a notebook, and then returned to the forest floor. Encourage kids to save their sketches and rubbings and to start a nature journal with them.

  2. Make a color copy of this image for each scavenger. The challenge is to find as many leaves as possible from each category (some trees listed may not be in your forest). Remind kids to take only fallen leaves. Following the hunt, they can refer to their field guides to learn more about the individual trees.

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