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Fall Nature Activities for Kids: Tree Leaf Scavenger Hunt

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I love fall. Usually, it’s still warm enough to get outside for fall nature activities but cool enough that I’m not sweating buckets. I hate feeling sticky and lethargic. But, I love cool, crisp mornings with a hot drink and wrapping myself in fuzzy softness. Can you tell I’m a northerner?

I also love fall nature activities because I love trees and plants, but not insects. By September, most plants have flowered and even born fruit, and yet they remain green for another month. To my joy, the insect population decreases greatly. So, I can go out in the woods without being swarmed with mosquitoes and gnats.

Because I’m a big believer in natural learning, a fall hike in the woods needed to be more. You know how it is. The kids run ahead, paying little attention to their surroundings. Then, when you finally reach the end of the trail, they’re jumping off park benches and climbing on the car. I wished to suck the marrow out of hikes, so I brainstormed some fall nature activities for kids. This tree leaf scavenger hunt is one of them.

Tree leaf scavenger hunt

Before I talk about how to set this up, I want to talk a bit about the benefits of doing one of these fall nature activities for kids. Why not just find these trees in a book or a video? Why engage kids in a semi-structured outdoor activity? Getting kids outside in a wild place has benefits all its own, as discussed HERE. Why not just let them run ahead on the trail?

Benefits of a scavenger hunt

Flexes observation skills

In order to find the correct tree, kids need to carefully observe their environment, not just run around. Some trees’ leaves look similar. If you add in the additional fall nature activities for kids of sketching trees and noting animal activities, they flex their observation skills more.

Engages problem-solving skills

Kids must compare the image to the real thing. They must figure out the best way to record their find. Maybe the tree isn’t close to the trail. How to reach it and avoid poisonous plants? They must also figure out how to find the trees in the first place.

Offers new knowledge

Your child will certainly learn a lot about trees, nature, habitats, plants and mosses. Most kids just see the woods as a mass of tangled green, not as a thriving ecosystem of hundreds of different plants and trees. Doing one of these fall nature activities for kids in the form of a scavenger hunt will help develop curiosity and appreciation.

fall nature activities for kids: tree leaf scavenger hunt
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Preparing the Hunt

Gather supplies

Children ages 8 and up generally enjoy these types of fall nature activities for kids the most and can do them independently. Younger siblings (ages 5 or 6) can join in, but a scavenger hunt requires some skills that many smaller children lack. They tend to get distracted and their observation powers aren’t as well developed. And, while they benefit from the activity, they need a lot of help or they get frustrated.

A tree leaf scavenger hunt works best in a temperate climate where a lot of deciduous trees grow. Below, I include some royalty-free photos of 10 trees from the Midwest/Eastern region of the U.S. (Most of these trees are also found in Europe). If you live in the southern or northwestern region of the U.S. or in a tropical zone, I recommend checking out one of these field guides: Pacific Northwest and Southeast.

To do the scavenger hunt, you will need a camera (or the camera on your phone), a small notepad, and a sheet with quality images of the trees you hope to find. If the leaves have already fallen off the trees, bring some collection bags, too. Alternatively, you can bring a field guide (this is a good one for the Midwest/Eastern region) with sticky notes marking the trees within the book. If you use a book, it may be helpful to still have a separate sheet of paper listing the trees. Then, you can check them off as you find them.

Common Trees

Here are some trees to get you started. These are royalty-free images. I encourage you to use the resources cited above to create your own “field guide” of trees for your scavenger hunt.

Maple Leaf. All maple trees have a characteristic 3-lobed, toothed surface. Image by Julia Schwab from Pixabay
A variety of oak leaves. Notice how they all have a similar shape. Image by TanteTati from Pixabay
Mountain Ash leaves and berries. You might still find berries in early fall. Image by M W from Pixabay
Here’s Beech Tree leaves in autumn. Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay
All Willow trees have this characteristic look. They are usually found near lakes, rivers, and ponds. Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Setting everything up

I like setting this activity up as one of my fall nature activities for kids even though summer is good, too. I do this for two reasons. One, the kids can collect the leaves and use them for other fall nature activities for kids. Second, because of the cooler weather, finding fun things to do becomes more challenging.

Once you have your supplies, choose your trees. Start with 5-10 trees and work up from there with additional outings to the woods. Sometimes your neighbors plant these trees in their front yard or parkway, so a neighborhood hunt also works. Either print images in full color on a sheet of paper or mark them in a field guide and then, offer a checklist.

As your kids find the trees, they can take a photograph of it or sketch it. Most forest preserves do not allow you to pick leaves off the trees. Your local park and neighbors probably will allow this. Obviously, if the leaves have already fallen, they can collect them as evidence of their finds.

To extend this fall nature activity for kids, you can request that the children jot down some notes about the trees. Were there any bird nests? What is the bark like? Did they find any insects or wasp nests? What about other unusual features? Encourage them to investigate further.

Above all, have fun and explore!

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