Thanksgiving Fun with Fall Foliage:
Bringing the Outside in for the Dinner Table

by Lori Waryanka


November 17, 2021

Falling leaves have overtaken most yards in recent weeks so why not take advantage of Mother Nature’s art palette and give the kids a fun assignment for Thanksgiving dinner.

The November feast doesn’t have much to offer the little ones aside from maybe helping to set the table or stir the pumpkin pie filling.  But with a little advance planning on our part with a nature walk, we can give them all the supplies needed to make festive placemats for the holiday meal.

It’s an economical art project since the leaves are free for the taking. You probably have on hand other supplies needed such as glue, construction paper or poster board, and crayons or markers.

Plus this craft gets us outside in the fresh air,  gives us some and exercise and affords us the opportunity to turn the outdoors into a classroom — can you say photosynthesis? And, what is chlorophyll anyway?

The Science Behind Changing Colors

Preschoolers are curious and you know they’re going to ask why the leaves are different colors and why do most trees shed their leaves.  This conversation doesn’t have to get very technical but the little ones deserve a basic explanation.

There’s a chemical in the leaves called “chlorophyll” that makes leaves green and turns sunlight into food for the trees.

This process is called “photosynthesis”.  When days get shorter and temperatures get colder, there is less chlorophyll and the green color fades away. What is left are other chemicals in the leaves that are orange, red, yellow and brown. These chemicals have no nutrients in them so the bright colors fade away to brown and the leaves become crisp and decay.

So, it's important to collect the colorful leaves soon after they fall to the ground or pluck them from the tree branch before they drop.

Preparing Leaves for Crafting

Nature crafts call for some advance preparation.

After we collected our leaves from the backyard, we placed them between pages of a magazine where they could lay flat away from the light and dry air of the house.  We placed a heavy book on top of the magazine to help flatten the leaves.  We let the leaves sit in the magazine or a few days before making our placemats.

Supplies and Tools

  • Pressed leaves
  • Construction paper or poster board cut into an appropriate size for a placemat
  • Liquid glue
  • Crayons or markers
  • Scissors
  • Other art supplies such as stencils, rubber stamps and ink, string and ribbon


Initially, decide on a size for your placemats. We used poster board and cut it into 11-inch by 14-inch rectangles which gave the kids enough space to decorate with leaves, words and drawings.  It also helped to have the youngsters get an idea of what image or message they wanted to create before gluing anything to the poster board.

You can simply glue leaves in a random pattern on the paper and add a family member’s name so the placement serves as a name card, too.

Because we had leaves of the same color but in many sizes, we decided to create a “leaf family” on the placemat. From largest to smallest, we created a “Dad, Mom and Me” portrait.  We gave each family member eyes and a nose using tiny pompons, and a smiling mouth using short  pieces of kitchen string.  We used 3 smaller, round leaves with stems to create the look of a bunch of balloons being held by the tiniest family members.

Another placemat we made was based on an image we saw online that required us to cut shapes out of larger leaves and create an owl sitting on a tree branch . This definitely required a good deal of help from the adult, but the end result was really cute.

This nature craft for preschoolers can be as basic or as complicated as you choose to make it.  The craft gives the kiddos a purpose in the holiday meal planning, and proves to be a great source of conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table.


Lori Waryanka is a regular columnist with The Green Voice Weekly Newsletter