Saturday, September 24, 2011
Look What I Did With a Leaf! By Morteza E. Sohi
I was a second grade teacher for many years -- and for many of those years I taught a science unit on trees, forests, and soil. Every September, I would take my students for a walk in the woods. We would look at the different kinds of trees and leaves, turn over rotting logs and find salamanders, observe decaying vegetation and detritus on the ground, study lichens growing on rocks and plants, look for fungi on the forest floor. We’d take another trip a few weeks later to an Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary where we’d look at different trees, make soil salad, and talk about photosynthesis and the chain of life. I found such experiences outside of school helped my students to become more attuned to the wonder of nature and the science all around them.
Back at school, I would give my students a special folder with directions and special materials for assignments and activities that they would complete at home over the course of a week. My students would select a tree in their yards or near their houses to observe for a few days. They would do bark rubbings of their selected trees and make leaf prints. They would also do detailed pencil sketches and artistic interpretations of their trees and spend time on three different days sitting outside looking at their trees and writing down their observations. Teaching my students how to become more careful observers was one of my main reasons for taking my students on the field trips and assigning these activities for homework.
Look What I Did with a Leaf! [is] a nonfiction book I used in conjunction with our science unit. It encouraged my students' powers of observation and provided me with an idea for an exceptional project to do at school in collaboration with our art teacher.
Look What I Did with a Leaf! is a science/craft book for children with suggestions and advice for helping them to create their own “leaf animal” collages. In this book, Sohi includes a Field Guide with pictures, descriptions, and sizes of leaves from different kinds of trees and plants and a section entitled The Life Cycle of a Leaf. He talks about training one’s eye in searching out leaves in a variety of colors, sizes, and shapes. He writes specifically about how saw-edged leaves may work best for capturing the texture of a rooster’s body, lobed leaves are excellent to use for frog’s feet, and long, narrow leaves work well for fox’s legs. Sohi includes his own collages of a rooster, a frog, and a fox to show readers how he used these specific types of leaves to create these three different leaf animals. Other collages in the book include those of a butterfly, elephant, parrot, owl, cougar, cow, mouse, lion, peacock, fish, cat, and turtle. Sohi also provides art notes for children and directions for preparing their collected leaves and assembling their animals.
Using Look What I Did with a Leaf!, my students created their own leaf animal collages with leaves they had collected and prepared. I found it was extremely important for children to prepare their leaves well in advance of the art project. The leaves must be cleaned by soaking in warm water, blotted dry, and then placed between pages of a newspaper and pressed. This preparation process takes about a week.