Kids Up North: Turn Michigan Fall Leaves into a Fun Way to Learn

Cold nights and wild winds are great reminders that it is almost leaf hunting season in Northern Michigan.  From learning about hardwoods to autumn craft awesomeness, falling foliage makes for a great way to spend an educational and artful afternoon. MyNorth tracked down some info and ideas for leaf gathering with Alison Berry, education specialist with the Little Traverse Conservancy

MyNorth: How many different fall leaves can be plucked from the ground in Northern Michigan?

Alison: Some of the leaves you can find include: red maple, sugar maple, northern white oak, paper birch, yellow birch, river maple (near wetter areas), ironwood, striped maple (aka: mountain maple, goosefoot), quaking and large tooth aspen, ash and beech. Beech nuts also make a fun edible snack along the way!

MyNorth: With lots of area nature preserves to explore, are there certain spots that are great to find a variety of leaves or hard to find collectibles? 

Alison: Hmmm….Any location with hardwoods (maples, beech, oak, etc), and you can usually check a nature conservancy’s website to view where those preserves can be found. In our service area, the Headlands in Mackinaw City; McCune Preserve (east Petoskey); Ransom Preserve in Charlevoix; Thorne Swift, Harbor Springs (early fall); Raven Ridge Charlevoix County, near Raven Hill; and Round Lake (here at Little Traverse Conservancy. 

MyNorth: Any suggestions for learning to identify leaves that are found on the ground?

Alison: Dichotomous keys – used in high school science classes, a process of elimination format.  We have copies of these here at Little Traverse Conservancy, and some may be able to be found online.  Going out with someone who knows trees (like on a conservancy environmental education field trip) or use any of the great field guides available; we use Peterson Guides, a simple version for first timers and young children.  Peterson’s are a great way to start – more comprehensive guides can be confusing and focus on a larger region. Try to find guides that say Great Lakes Region, or Northern (Midwest) versus Northeastern U.S.

MyNorth: What are some of your favorite fall nature art inspired projects?

Alison: Using leaves and fall flowers to paint with (using a variety of fall colors), Forest mobiles, Arranging leaves by color, making leaf collages, Leaf crowns.  Great books for nature art ideas:  Nature’s Playground by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield. And of course, just raking and playing in the leaves!

Check out this step-by-step way to make the leaves highlighted in the photo above.

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