My parents’ family room is filled with toys for their grandchildren to play with when they come over. But these days when my toddler goes to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, the biggest form of entertainment comes from the glorious red-leaved maple shining in their front yard.

Gracie and leaves

Spend a nice fall afternoon letting your child explore the wonders of autumn and all its amazing gifts.

Photo Credit: Mary Jaros

Crayon sprinkles

Spreading the crayon shavings may sound like a quick and simple procedure, but to my lil’ artist, it’s a long sprinkle-by-sprinkle step!

Photo Credit: Jenny Hooks

Iron

For best – and safe – results, use two old dish towels between your wax paper creation when melting the crayon shavings with the iron.

Photo Credit: Jenny Hooks

Big leaf hanging

We enjoy Gracie’s big leaf hanging every time we let the dog out through the back door. (That’s a lot.)

Photo Credit: Jenny Hooks

Little leaf hangings

We made little leaf hangings to display in the front window for everyone to see.

Photo Credit: Jenny Hooks

“Pretty red tree!” my almost-3-year-old cheers every time we pull up Grandma and Grandpa’s driveway. (And yes, I mean every time.)

I shamefully admit that it wasn’t until Gracie’s third or fourth “pretty red tree” declaration that it dawned on me that this was the first autumn she’s likely realized. And a “pretty red tree” wasn’t just a tree – it was, in her little world, the only tree that mattered.

Looking at the pretty red tree in my parents’ yard – the very one, in fact, that I admired every fall as a child myself – brought back a lot of memories. For starters, this was the very tree I plucked with my brother and neighbor kids when our grammar school art teacher told us to gather leaves for a fall-related project.

And now it was my daughter’s turn.

So one crisp fall afternoon, with Grandma and Grandpa’s help, Gracie and I created a great little window hanging for our house, so we can look at the pretty red leaves from the pretty red tree anytime we want to. This project’s easy and fun for lil’ leaf gatherers of all ages – and it’s a great learning experience about autumn.

Here’s all you’ll need:

  • A pile of fresh, colorful leaves
  • A paper lunch bag (or something to hold the collected leaves)
  • Wax paper
  • A cutting board or coffee table book (or other easy-to-move flat surface)
  • Crayons (old broken ones would be good)
  • A pencil or crayon sharpener (now you know why old crayons are good)
  • An iron and ironing board
  • Two old (but clean) dish towels
  • Construction paper
  • Markers, stickers or other art supplies (to decorate construction paper)
  • Tape or glue
  1. Give your kids or grandchildren each a little paper bag and let them explore your yard (or a park) for colorful leaves that catch their eyes. They’ll know what to do next. (All I had to do was point Gracie in the direction of the “pretty red tree” – she picked up the “gather leaves” concept right away.)
  2. Take your leaves inside and spread them out on the kitchen table. Ask your child to pick out a few of his or her favorites. Put one piece of wax paper (how large is up to you) on the cutting board or other flat surface, then have your son or daughter arrange the leaves on the paper as desired.
  3. Using the pencil sharpener and your crayons, make a little colorful pile of wax shavings. (Older children can make the shavings themselves, but small fingers will need a grownup’s help.) You can use different colors and mix the shavings together, or you can keep the piles separate – it’s all up to your lil’ artist.
  4. Have your child sprinkle the crayon shavings over and around his or her leaf design in a colorful pattern. Make sure some are sprinkled in each corner of the wax paper, as well as along the sides.
  5. Cover the design with another piece of wax paper, so you’ve got a sort of “wax paper sandwich.” Then carry your cutting board or book over to the ironing board. (The board or book just helps in transferring the project from one part of the room to another without worrying about your design shifting.)
  6. Put an old dish towel on the ironing board, then carefully slide your “wax paper sandwich” off the cutting board and onto the towel. Cover the design with another dish towel. (So now you have a “dish towel sandwich.”)
  7. Heat your iron to a medium setting, then press it firmly onto the dish towel that’s covering the wax paper. Hold for a few seconds, then move the iron over to a new section of the towel. After the entire towel has been pressed, remove it carefully to check the wax paper underneath. The crayons between the wax paper should be melting gently over and around the leaves, creating a “glue” to stick the two wax sheets together. Repeat ironing as needed, until all the crayon shavings have melted. Let paper cool completely before letting your child touch it.
  8. When the wax paper has cooled (and you’ve put the unplugged, still-hot iron out of the reach of little hands), go back to the table and have your child make a frame for the picture, using the construction paper. Have your child decorate the paper any way he or she chooses. Tape or glue the frame onto the wax paper.
  9. Hang your design in a sunny window and admire the beautiful fall colors throughout the rest of the season. (We plan on keeping ours up until after Thanksgiving.)

This project was simple and a lot of fun, but more importantly, it was a nice activity for Gracie and I to do together: We learned about leaves, we used our creativity, and we found a way to enjoy gorgeous fall foliage long after the “pretty red tree” drops all of its leaves (forcing us to find a new source of entertainment come winter).