Science experiments for kids are big in our home. My kids love them—and so do I. While teaching Kindergarten, I made science experiments a priority. Kids are so naturally curious about the world around them, and science experiments bring this learning fully to life!
This is my ABSOLUTE favorite science experiment of all time—oh yes, I promise it is THAT GOOD!
I even included this science experiment in Kindergarten at Home, my curriculum for children ages 4 to 6. Kindergarten at Home consists of 18 units, each spanning two weeks. This science experiment is part of the unit all about leaves! Your little one will make leaf art, prepare a fresh salad with you in the kitchen, practice their literacy skills through some fun leaf activities, and so much more.
Take a peek inside! Check out Kindergarten at Home right here: https://shop.howweelearn.com/pages/kindergarten-at-home
Why Do Leaves Change Color?
When asked by my eldest daughter at age 3 (don’t ask me how many years ago that was!), “Why do leaves change color?” I had no answer.
I looked it up and found it too complicated for a 3-year-old, but I explained the best I could and let it be.
I was in Teacher’s College at the time, and wouldn’t you know, a few weeks later, we learned about—and did—a science experiment for kids about leaves changing color!
It made things so much clearer that I immediately did the experiment with Madeline. And my future Kindergarten classes. And my future children. Multiple times. Yep, it really is that good!
Before we get started, be sure to download your Free Printable with step-by-step instructions for this fascinating Why Do Leaves Change Color? Science Experiment:
Please keep in mind this is my (limited) understanding, having done the experiment and some research in that class. I’d love to share it with you. So…
The Science Experiment!
Leaves contain chlorophyll. Chlorophyll makes the leaves green and is so dominant that it covers up all the other colors in the leaves. To figure out what color a leaf would be without the dominant chlorophyll color, we can separate the colors by doing this science experiment.
This experiment is very simple, and you likely already have everything you need!
- three leaves from the same tree
- rubbing alcohol
- glass jar
- plastic baggie or plastic wrap
- paper coffee filter
- small bowl or pan
- scissors (optional to cut the coffee filter)
- elastics (optional to hold the plastic wrap in place)
- tape (optional to hold coffee filter in place)
1. Have your child break the leaves into tiny pieces and put them in the jar. We decided to try leaves from two different trees to see how the results compare (being careful to keep each pile of leaves separate).
2. Pour rubbing alcohol over the leaves until they are just covered. A feline supervisor is optional, but highly encouraged.
3. Mash and stir the leaves into the rubbing alcohol until the alcohol turns slightly green. Really give it a good mashing—this is key. We used a plastic spoon so we could really mush and poke the leaves without worrying about accidentally breaking the jar.
4. Cover the jar with a baggie or plastic wrap. We used a rubber band to help hold it in place. Place the jar in a bowl and pour hot water into the bowl.
5. Leave the jar in the hot water for at least 30 minutes, occasionally swishing the jar to stir the leaves. The alcohol should be a dark green (leave longer if needed). If you can resist, wait 45 minutes or even an hour. We found the color difference in the rubbing alcohol at this stage interesting! Is the chlorophyll perhaps stronger in the leaves on the right?
6. Cut a strip from the coffee filter so it can reach the rubbing alcohol. Place it in the jar, and secure it with a small piece of tape at the top edge if needed.
7. The liquid will travel up the coffee filter, and the colors will separate as the alcohol evaporates off the coffee filter. Let this happen for about an hour for the full effect.
There was definitely a difference between the two types of leaves we chose! While it was difficult to capture in the photo, we could see a lot of orange-red tones in the coffee filter strip on the left, and more yellow tones in the one on the right. We also noticed that the size of the orange-red tinge in the strip on the left was larger than the yellow tinge in the strip on the right.
And sure enough, the leaves on the left turn an orange-red shade in the fall, and the leaves on the right turn yellow!
So… Why Do Leaves Change Color?
In this science experiment, we used rubbing alcohol and energy (hot water) to separate the colors. You likely saw green and, depending on your leaf type, maybe red, yellow, or orange.
As we know, chlorophyll gives leaves their green color and is so dominant it hides the other colors in the leaves. But in the fall, chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down, allowing the other colors to finally shine through and show their beautiful reds, yellows, and oranges.
I hope you and your little ones enjoyed this experiment! Science is everywhere, and science experiments for kids are such a wonderful way to build on our children’s natural curiosity about the world.
If you’re ready for an entire year of Kindergarten activities planned for you–easy peasy and full of fun and wonder—check out Kindergarten at Home!
Your Complete 36-Week Curriculum for 4-6 Year Olds
Thank you so much for reading, my friend,