Autumn Leaves? Yes Please!

Fall Science Experiment

Use this fun science experiment with children of all ages to help them understand why leaves change color in the fall. It's very simple and easy! Read on to find out more!

Sometimes, the easiest way to explain a concept is to show how it's done! That's why we love this science activity to help kids visualize why leaves change color in the fall. Here's what you need to know about this activity: 

It's helpful to preface the experiment with some basic information about plants. Depending on the age group of your young scientists, you can go as basic or as in depth as you need to here. Kids should have an understanding that plants use sunlight to obtain food. (You can decide whether you want to explain the process of photosynthesis.) But they should know that as the seasons change and sunlight decreases, the chlorophyll that gives the leaves their green color starts to decrease. When that happens, other colors that were in the leaves all along start to show!

Here are the materials you'll need to do this experiment: 

  • rubbing alcohol
  • three small jars
  • coffee filters
  • different color leaves
  • spoon
Autumn Science Activity

The first thing you'll want to do is divide the leaves up by color. (We divided them by type because we had two sets of greens. The Super Teacher team hasn't seen the autumn leaves transform in our area yet, so we improvised! Use what's available to you.)

Put your three leaf types into three jars. Tear the leaves into tiny pieces. The tinier the pieces, the better! 

Fall Leaves Science

Next, pour rubbing alcohol over the pieces of leaves. Use a spoon to mash the pieces in the rubbing alcohol. If you do this for a couple minutes, the rubbing alcohol should start to take on the color of the leaves. To really see the liquid absorb that color, wait an hour or so before placing folded-up coffee filters into each jar, as pictured below. 

Autumn Stem Activity

Once the coffee filters are propped up in the jars, you'll need to let them sit there for a good amount of time - a couple of hours or so. This will give your coffee filters an adequate amount of time to soak up the pigments. 

Fall Stem Activity

At the end of the activity, you'll be able to see that different colors have traveled up the coffee filters. Our color variations were very subtle because it was early in the season, but you can still see the browns and yellows, in addition to the greens. 

(Helpful Hint: We layered our coffee filters, hoping they would soak up more of the rubbing alcohol. However, if we did it again, we would use one coffee filter per jar. The separation of the different pigments might be more distinct this way!)


What did you think of this autumn leaves science activity? What are your own favorite fall activities to do with your students? We'd love to hear from you! Leave us your feedback in the comments section below!

If you're interested in learning more about this topic, check out this wonderful, free reading comprehension activity called "Why Leaves Change Color"!

Also, be sure to visit our Autumn Worksheets Page, where you'll find many more educational resources to celebrate fall! 

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