Fall leaves are one of those glorious gifts of nature: each one a unique little treasure, ever so slightly different in shape and coloring from its neighbors. Trying to find the one that is the most red, the most variegated, the biggest, or the most pristine and unblemished is a fun activity for kids in itself, but the forms and colors of fall leaves can also spur creativity and young imaginations. Below we've produced a roundup of 10 of our favorite fall leaf craft projects. However, before you start any project, it's worth figuring out if you need to press your leaves first for the best results, or if you can use them fresh. Fresh leaves will curl and fade in just days, so they are not recommended for projects that rely on the shape of the leaf or that you want to keep. Pressing leaves takes around one to two weeks, so you'll need to plan ahead. To press leaves, you can simply slip them between the pages of an old phone book, preferably weighing it down with a second book if you have one handy. Once you have the fresh versus pressed conundrum sorted, you can move on to the really fun part: the craft!
1. Leaf Painting
Leaf painting doesn’t have to mean a big mess. Barbara Rucci from Art Bar and her children even did the project pictured above while on a resort vacation. Barbara’s trick? Watersoluble crayons. The crayons allow greater control for keeping within the lines, and just need a slick of water to give a painterly finish. Choosing bold, bright, high-contrast colors gives a contemporary edge too, and you might like to get some further inspiration from Brazilian artist Gabee Meyer.
2. Leaf Embroidery
Here’s a project for those itchy little fingers that just can’t possibly wait for your collected leaves to dry. Rachel Faucett has a wonderful leaf embroidery tutorial over at Handmade Charlotte that uses the leaves while they are still pliable. She also has a very cute painted animal faces tutorial in the same post. This craft activity can be as simple or as detailed as your child’s level of expertise allows, and you can experiment with thread colors to create some eye-popping complementary color schemes.
3. Waxed Leaves
If you would like to preserve the color of your leaves, try this simple-yet-effective technique from Martha Stewart. Leaves can simply be dipped in melted beeswax and then used or displayed any which way you like. Martha suggests a simple mobile in her instructions. The leaves will retain the lovely bold colors that attracted you to them in the first place, and they’ll gain a lovely glossy finish. Obviously, adult supervision will be required for this one!
4. Leaf Confetti
This craft idea from Grow Creative is ridiculously easy, yet ridiculously effective. A trip to the craft store will nab you a great range of paper punch shapes, or you could just use a basic hole punch. After punching out your confetti, use it fresh or follow the pressing technique given in the introduction above to dry and flatten it for use in other projects. With older kids, you might like to experiment a little more with the positive and negative space of the cut outs with some inspiration from the wonderful, whimsical German artist Sabine Timm.
5. Leaf Garland
There are many possibilities for leaf garlands, but this one from Alisa Burke really stands out for the striking patterns she painted on the leaves. Mix and match your leaf shapes, grade them by size, or go for uniformity; but whatever you choose, pressing fresh leaves first is important for this project, otherwise they will start to curl up as they dry. Alisa used a hot glue gun to stick her leaves to their string, but you could also try stitching or threading them, or even just attaching them with some sturdy craft tape.
6. Outdoor Leaf Maze
This great idea from Happy Hooligans can be a stand-alone project, or part of your leaf collection ritual in preparation for other crafts. It’s a fun outdoor activity as the weather gets more crisp, and it might also encourage the kids to give you a hand with the raking up! There are several maze ideas on the Happy Hooligans site, so follow the link for some further inspiration.
7. Leaf Finger Puppets
This project is a classic and so open to interpretation and wild imaginings. Then you all get to act out the stories too. This how-to from Rebecca over at Sturdy for Common Things uses rolled up colored paper for added visual impact, but you could also recycle toilet rolls and paint and decorate them. As an added bonus, Rebecca has some fabulous fall leaf-themed storytime recommendations in her post too.
8. Leaf Mask
For some really imaginative play, this leaf mask from Small + Friendly makes a great dress-up costume. Carla from Small + Friendly also recommends you press the leaves for this project beforehand to ensure your mask still looks tip top after a day or two. This project could also be the start of a great, fall-themed Halloween costume.
9. Salt-dough Leaf Imprints
The Imagination Tree’s Anna Ranson and her children love using salt dough as a base for craft activities. In this project the children chose their favorite leaves and then pressed them into the dough. Anna then dried the leaf imprints in the oven and once they’d cooled the children colored them in with pencils. Anna has lots of handy tips on this project in her post, as well as links to her recipe and other dough-based craft ideas.
10. Wax Paper “Stained Glass” Bunting
Jean Van’t Hul from The Artful Parent has another fabulous bunting idea that has the big plus of being a no-sew project. It is also very open to customization from the leaf arrangement, to the shape of the flags, and then the artwork applied to the finished bunting. In this project the fall leaves are simply sealed in between sheets of wax paper by an adult who is handy with an iron. For step-by-step instructions, please see here.
Lead image by Philippe Put via Flickr. Photos by Art Bar, Handmade Charlotte, Martha Stewart, Grow Creative, Alisa Burke, Happy Hooligans, Sturdy for Common Things, Small + Friendly, The Imagination Tree, and The Artful Parent