Learning About Leaves: Exploration Science Activities for Students with Severe Multiple Disabilities

Activities for students with severe multiple disabilities to learn about and explore leaves

By Jaime Brown, Teacher of the Visually Impaired at Foundation for Blind Children, Phoenix, AZ

When I am planning science lessons I look for meaningful, concrete activities that will engage all of the students’ senses.  Science can be very abstract, so, hands on, tangible activities are most appropriate. Typically, I plan lessons around the students’ environment, such as vocabulary they will hear in books, objects and scents that are present around certain times of the year.  Autumn is a season filled with science learning opportunities.

There are several books that will support leaf activities.  Fall Leaves Fall, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed A Leaf, and We’re Going on A Leaf Hunt.

Leaves aren’t typically accessible to young children with a visual impairment as they are so high in the sky.  Instead, bring the leaves to the students for discovery, exploration and manipulation. The purpose of the leaf science activities is to develop in-depth knowledge of leaves: the vocabulary, colors (when applicable), shapes, sizes, and textures.  

Leaf Activities:

Place large leaves on a parachute.  Assist with shaking the parachute to move the leaves up and down to watch them fly in the air. Sing a short song during parachute play.  Here is one variation that I sing.

Two leaves on a single stem
Tune to: The Farmer in the Dell
The leaves are falling down
The leaves are falling down
Hi ho the dairy o the leaves are falling down.
The leaves are in the air
The leaves are in the air
Hi ho the dairy o the leaves are in the air.

Discover Wind: 

I attach the APH black fan to a switch so students may independently control the wind.  Then I hold the tree branch (that still has leaves on it) while they turn on the fan.  Then they are able to watch the leaves “move” in the wind.  For variations on the activity one student can turn the fan on/off and another student can hold the tree branch.  That will allow the student to feel the wind and see the leaves move.  Another option is to set up the fan and the branch on a table, so that the student may participate in independent exploration.

Leaf Sensory Tray: 

Fill a tray with leaves of varying sizes, textures and shapes.  Students can explore the leaves tactually and visually.  

Leaf Sorting: 

Some students may be ready to sort the leaves.  Fill a basket with two different types of leaves.  Use a divided tray and put one leaf in each side.  Then provide assistance as necessary for the student to sort the leaves.  Some students may be ready to sort leaves by color.  

leaf and flower arrangement
Leaf and flower arrangement with fall colors


This activity can be done individually, or as a small or large group.  Glue different leaves to the top of a paper or poster board.  Draw lines down the board so that there are vertical rows for each type of leaf. Then give the student a leaf and have them place the leaf in the correct row.  Once the student is done graphing the leaves, count the leaves in each column.  This activity lends itself well to visual and tactual learners.  Display the graph in an area of the room where the students may revisit it.  Another option is to glue the leaves on cards.  Students can then repeat the activity frequently until they are ready to move on.  

Leaf Collage: 

This one is self-explanatory.  Allow students to choose which leaves to use and to choose where on the paper they would like to place the leaves.  The students can also choose the color of their paper.  Provide support as needed to put glue down, pick up and release the leaves.

Go Outside: 

Go on a nature walk.  Look for low branches that the students can reach while using their wheelchairs, or other mobility equipment.  Explore the leaves through smell, touch and sound.  

dried leaves
Dried leaves

Crunch the leaves: 

Scatter dried leaves on the sidewalk so they can crunch the leaves as they walk (or roll) over them.  Place leaves on a tray and put them under the students’ feet.  If they are wearing shoes, assist them with lifting their feet up and down to crunch the leaves.  Some students prefer to explore with their bare feet.  With their shoes off they can crunch the leaves.  

Create a leaf experience book: 

There are different themes you could use to write your story.  Some ideas are to write about different colored leaves, different types of leaves, sizes and shapes of leaves, and leaf activities.  Write the book with the student, following their interests and activities they engaged in during the lessons.  

Leaves are fun to touch and explore.  They can easily be manipulated by small hands.  It is easy to explore leaves inside and outside.  Students will develop knowledge of leaf properties instead of thinking that leaves are a blurry mass of green in the sky. Students will have a reference point of the weight, texture and size when they hear the word “leaf”.  

NGSS Standards

Cross-cutting Concepts: (These go across grade levels.)

1. Patterns. Observed patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification, and they prompt questions about relationships and the factors that influence them.  

6. Structure and function. The way in which an object or living thing is shaped and its substructure determine many of its properties and functions 

K -2 LS1.A: Structure and Function

All organisms have external parts. Different animals use their body parts in different ways to see, hear, grasp objects, protect themselves, move from place to place, and seek, find, and take in food, water and air. Plants also have different parts (roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits) that help them survive and grow. (1-LS1-1)]‎ 

leaves collage

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