7 Fun Crafts That Use Autumn Leaves

Use one of nature's most abundant materials to entertain children and make art.

Girl with leaf crown

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Leaves are everywhere this time of year. Rather than view them as a nuisance that needs to be cleaned up, consider them a fabulous, all-natural resource for doing crafts with children. Leaves are abundant and versatile, and could easily become your favorite go-to craft supply.

Whenever you're out for a walk with children, have them gather the most beautiful, colorful leaves they can find. The best ones are still fresh and dry, collected on a rain-free day after the morning dew has evaporated. Bring them home and press some between heavy books for at least a week. Others can be used right away, depending on the craft.

1. Waxed Leaf Garland

Just in time for Thanksgiving, this is a lovely way to add color and natural beauty to your decor. You'll need 20-30 colorful leaves. Melt 2 pounds of beeswax in a double boiler over medium-low heat. (You'll want to designate a special boiler, bowl, or large metal can for this purpose, as it can't be fully cleaned after.) Watch it carefully to avoid burning. 

Set up your work area by protecting the table and floor with newspaper and laying out a 2-foot length of waxed paper. When wax is melted, remove from heat. Holding each leaf by the stem, dip into the wax. Poke underneath the surface with a stick if needed. Lift the leaf out, let it drip and cool slightly, then lay on the wax paper. Let cool fully. Repeat with all leaves.

Make a garland by taking a 12-foot thin hemp cord and tying a small knot at the halfway point, leaving a finger-sized hole in the center of the knot. Insert the stem of your favorite leaf, then tighten to secure. Repeat with other leaves at 1 to 2-inch intervals in both directions. You should have an 8-foot garland.

From "The Unplugged Family Activity Book" by Rachel Jepson Wolf

2. Leaf Lanterns

This craft uses pressed leaves, so you'll have to prepare a week in advance. Use a paintbrush to spread tacky craft glue on the outside of a clean glass jar. Press and smooth scraps of white tissue paper and the assorted pressed leaves onto the glue-covered jar. Apply another thin layer of glue to cover and seal in the leaves. Let it dry. Add some twine or vines at the top to embellish it. Add a tea light and enjoy the glow.

From "Nature Play Workshop for Families" by Monica Wiedel-Lubinski and Karen Madigan

3. Jack Frost Glaze

"This salt solution mimics the crystal structure that forms when dew turns to icy frost." Boil 2 cups of water in a pot and add 1 1/4 cup Epsom salt. Stir until fully dissolved, then set aside to cool. When it is warm, add 3 to 4 drops liquid dish soap. Use a paintbrush to apply the mixture to a selection of fall leaves. The frosty effect will only be visible once the glaze is completely dry.

From "Nature Play Workshop for Families" by Monica Wiedel-Lubinski and Karen Madigan

4. Stained Glass Windows

An old classroom standby, this craft never seems to lose its appeal to children. You'll need pressed leaves for this activity, so prepare them in advance. Place an arrangement of colorful, multi-sized leaves between two sheets of waxed paper. With a towel covering it, use an iron to melt the paper together and enclose the leaves. (Kids will need adult supervision for this.) Once cool, tape it to a window and see how the sun makes it glow.

From "The Big Book of Nature Activities" by Drew Monkman and Jacob Rodenburg

5. Leaf Rubbings

Gather a collection of sturdy, flat leaves. Tape the corners of a sheet of white paper to a hard work surface. Slide a leaf, veined side up, underneath the paper. Rub the paper with a crayon or pencil until a leaf pattern emerges. You may have to hold the stem while your child colors to prevent it from moving around. 

Alternatively, use a white crayon on white paper to do the rubbing. It will be invisible, so be sure to do the whole area thoroughly. The child will then paint over the invisible rubbing using brightly colored watercolors or washable marker. The leaf pattern should magically appear. You can try contrasting colors, too, such as black crayon with red or orange paint.

From "Child's Play in Nature" by Leslie Hamilton

6. Egg Carton Leaf Bouquets

Get a selection of colorful autumn leaves with stems at least a half-inch long. (It's recommended to use lacquered leaves for optimal appearance.) You'll need an egg carton; cut off the cover and the front tab section. Cut a 4-cup section off the carton. Have the child paint the outside of the egg carton section. Use a pencil point to make a hole in the top of each egg carton cup. Insert leaf stems into holes. Use your bouquet as a table centerpiece. 

To make the leaves stay colorful and shiny for longer, lacquer them first with white glue. You can do this by applying white glue to the fronts of the leaves (done most easily on a sheet of waxed paper, using a finger to spread it thoroughly). When you have 4-6 leaves, transfer to a clean piece of waxed paper and microwave on high for 15 seconds, watching carefully. Remove and check to see if glue is dry. Remove dry ones and continue microwaving any wet ones for a few seconds at a time until dry. Turn leaves over and repeat steps.

From "Child's Play in Nature" by Leslie Hamilton

 7. Leaf Crowns

Who doesn't want to feel like a king or queen of the forest? Gather a collection of colorful leaves. Cut an old pizza box into strips that are 2 inches wide and 20 inches long. Figure out the right size for your head. Thread a large embroidery needle with floss and knot it at the end. Stitch leaves, one at a time, onto the cardboard band. Continue adding until it's filled. Stitch the ends of the cardboard to finish the crown and wear it.

From "Nature Play Workshop for Families" by Monica Wiedel-Lubinski and Karen Madigan