Blogger Abby Johnson

Ruminating on Leaf Rubbing

If you live in a place where you have deciduous trees, you are probably experiencing (or starting to experience) that brilliant foliage color change that happens this time of year. Which means that it is a GREAT time for making leaf rubbings with your kids at the library. (Also: even if you do not live in a place where the leaves change in the fall, as long as you have leaves you can do leaf rubbings!)

Photo by Abby Johnson
Photo by Abby Johnson

This may seem like a very basic and boring activity. I thought so, too. But our kids go crazy for it every year (even though we do it with our Afterschool outreach storytimes every single year). And it is extremely cheap and easy to do. Which makes it a perfect craft, in my opinion.

Here’s what you do:

Step 1: Gather leaves. I do not have deciduous trees in my yard, so I take a nice walk at our local park and I’m careful to only gather a few leaves from each tree so it doesn’t make a noticeable difference.

Photo by Abby Johnson
Photo by Abby Johnson

Step 1B:  I have found that if you gather leaves from the ground, it’s hard to find leaves that are not dried out and those aren’t going to last you very long. I pick leaves from the trees (preferably leaves that have already changed color since they are so beautiful), and I am always careful to knock any bugs off and to choose leaves that don’t have spiderwebs and things on them.

** Make sure that you know what you are picking are non-harmful leaves! If you’re not sure, skip that tree or bush.

Step 2: Put the leaves in a plastic ziplock bag. This will keep them fresh if you want to use them for a few days. When we take this activity to our Afterschool groups, we use the same leaves for three or four visits. They will last nicely for 4-5 days, after which we compost them and I pick fresh leaves for the next week.

Step 3: To make the leaf rubbings, put a leaf or leaves on the table with the veiny side (the “bumpy side”) facing up. Place a blank piece of paper over the leaves (thinner paper is better – regular printer paper is what we use). Then use a crayon to GENTLY color the paper over where the leaves are placed. You should see the outline of the leaf appearing on the paper.

Photo by Abby Johnson.
Photo by Abby Johnson.

Step 3B: When kids have problems with this activity, it is usually because they are coloring too hard on the paper. To make it easier, you can peel the wrapping off the crayons and have them color with the side of the crayon.

And that’s it!

Every year, I expect kids to be bored with this activity, but it hasn’t happened yet. We encourage the older kids who have done it before to help the younger kids. And kids always ask “Are these REAL leaves?!” Yes, yes they are. We’re bringing a little bit of nature to the kids. One nice thing about this activity is that kids can repeat it pretty much anywhere. If they have trees on their school grounds or in their neighborhoods, they can gather leaves and repeat this on their own very easily.

What if you DON’T have access to leaves (or have concerns about allergies – this has never been a problem for us, but I could see it happening?)? You can try this activity with anything that has a texture. Tree bark, concrete, the bottom of your shoe.

Have you done leaf rubbings with your kids?

— Abby Johnson, Youth Services Manager
New Albany-Floyd County Public Library
New Albany, IN


  1. Renee Perron

    Do you ever find it hard with the little kids to do leaf rubbings? When ever I do them myself, I always take a crayon without its paper and lay it flat to rub it. But I find the preschoolers have a hard time holding a crayon like that. And the kids tend to hold the crayon the regular way and basically draw on the paper while the rubbing doesn’t “pop” like it is supposed to. Any tips??

    Also, when trying this activity using other textures – Lego sheets work great! (whatever you call the long flat lego piece that you can building a structure on top of)

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