Teaching kids why autumn leaves change colour

Why do leaves change colour in Autumn? kindergardening.co.uk
Have you ever wondered just why it is leaves change their colour in Autumn?

The autumn colours are beginning to show themselves and now is the perfect time to be telling children what’s behind this process in the autumn leaves. If you don’t know yourself then you may find this interesting too, I know I have learned things myself just from trying to answer our childs’ questions. It’s important to encourage their curiosity and want of understanding by not simply dismissing the questions we can’t answer, although it’s not always easy. We have lots of activities lined up for the autumn leaves this year too to encourage their curiosity but more on that later. Now I will do my best to lay out the transformation of the autumn leaves in a simple interesting way.

How do leaves change colour in Autumn?

To begin, trees use a green chemical (Chlorophyll) to capture sunlight in the leaves and use water and air (Carbon dioxide) to turn it into sugars (Glucose) in the leaf. Those sugars are what the plant eats and uses to grow. There is so much of the green chemical in the leaves that it makes the leaves look completely green. The sunlight destroys the green chemical but the trees keep making more.

Chlorophyll gives leaves it's green colour kindergardening.co.uk

As the days get shorter and the temperature colder into the autumn season the trees begin preparing for winter. The tree stops putting energy into growing leaves and producing the green chemical because the leaves will just die in the winter cold and frost. It does this by blocking water and chemicals going to and from the leaf (abscission layer) at the point where the leaf grows from the stem. This isn’t instant though, it happens slowly and allows the leaves to stay on the trees to display their full colour.

autumn colours on leaves kindergardening.co.uk

Because no more of the green chemical is being produced, the sunlight breaks down what remains in the leaf. What is left is the other chemicals in the leaf you wouldn’t ordinarily see. These chemicals include the orange and yellow chemicals that you find in carrots (beta-carotenes) and egg yolks (luteins) that gives the leaves the pretty colours.

yellow leaves on a tree kindergardening.co.uk

As the leaf gets older the remaining sugars left in the leaf break down into a red chemical (anthocyanin) which is why red is the last bright colour to see of autumn.

red autumn leaves kindergardening.co.uk

After the red colour comes the final colour of autumn, brown. With all the water gone from the leaf and the other chemicals broken down the remaining brown chemicals (tannins) are left with the dry crunchy leaf. The leaf drops from the stem and breaks down easily into the earth, becoming extra food for the tree.

brown autumn leaves kindergardening.co.uk

The tree finally moves its’ sap and energy into the trunk and down to the roots to store for winter until the weather becomes warmer in the spring.

tree roots kindergardening.co.uk

We don’t always get to see the full colours of autumn though due to the weather. Sometimes it gets too cold too quickly, other times with high winds or heavy rain the leaves are knocked off the trees.


The autumn is a delicate season, from harvest and storing to children playing in the autumn leaves, it can turn so quickly and feel like winter. It represents the end of the summer, a time of prosperity and growth. It’s easy to get romantic about the season and recollect fond childhood feelings but simply enjoy it whilst it lasts. The last flash of colour before winter, summers’ final gift.

enjoying autumn with the kids kindergardening.co.uk

How to preserve Autumn leaves in beeswax

preserving leaves in beeswax kinder gardening.co.uk

Autumn leaves preserved in beeswax kindergardening.co.uk

What you need
  • Beeswax
  • Autumn leaves with stems
  • Wax paper
  • 1 large saucepan
  • 1 pot to sit inside the large saucepan
  • Plastic bag
What to do

Ideally you would use a double boiler to melt the wax but as we do not have one we used a large saucepan and a bowl covered in a plastic bag to protect it from the wax.

melt bees wax in double boiler kindergardening.co.uk

  • Boil the water in a large saucepan and melt the wax in the smaller pot
  • Once the wax is melted hold the leaf by the stem and lay it into the hot wax making sure it covers the entire leaf
  • Once the leaf has been covered in the wax lift it up and let the excess wax drip back into the pot
  • Place the leaf on the wax paper to drylay beeswax covered leaves on paper kindergardening.co.uk

Your autumn leaves are now preserved and the beautiful colours should last a lot longer now. We decided to make a pretty nature garland with our leaves but we have so many left over that we will do some more fun Autumn leaf activities with them this week.

autumn leaves decoration kindergardening.co.uk

If you have a beautiful display of autumn colours near you or if you have been doing your own autumn leaf art with the kids then please feel free to share with us your pictures on our social media.

2 thoughts on “Teaching kids why autumn leaves change colour”

    1. We were actually discussing this last night as they look so nice. This is the first year we have done this so not sure how long they will last but it would be nice if they did
      last for christmas.

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