STEAM@Home: Leaf Rubbing

By Cambridge Public Library and Cambridge STEAM Initiative

Ever wonder about the trees around you? Let's learn to identify trees in our neighborhoods or on-the-go.

Leaf rubbing
This is an ongoing program.

Ages: 4 to Adults.

Grades Preschool through 12th grade.

Request assistance


Barb MacEachern
Program Quality Manager, Cambridge STEAM Initiative

No application or registration needed.


Contact us for more information.


The program serves people at their homes or wherever it is needed or online.

  • Only virtual (online or over the phone).

Additional information

 Leaf rubbing is a fun and easy way to remember the types of trees you found. This activity can also be creatively transformed by creating patterns, cutting to create collage, tracing leaves, drawing, and more.

What You Need: • Leaves • Paper • Crayons • Clipboard or tape (optional)

What You Do:

1. Go outside and collect leaves of different shapes, sizes, and textures. A leaf will work well for rubbing if it is dry and without tears or holes.

2. Place a leaf on a hard surface with the leaf “veins” facing you. This is the bottom side of the leaf.

3. (Optional) You may want to use a piece of tape or a clipboard to steady the stem of the leaf.

4. Put a white sheet of paper on top of the leaf.

5. Rub a crayon or colored pencil on its side and gently color on the white sheet of paper over the leaf. As you color, the imprint of the leaf will appear on the paper.

6. Repeat with other leaves and colors. LEAF ID BACKPACK Leaf Rubbing Other Ideas: • Outline the leaf shapes in your rubbings • Identify what types of leaves you found and label your rubbings • Put the leaves into categories based on size, shape, edges, points, etc. • Measure your leaves with a ruler or by rubbing them on graph paper onto graph paper and counting squares

This activity supports the practice of these STEAM Habits of Mind: Develop craft, engage & persist, observe, reflect, stretch & explore.

Tips for Supporting Your Children's Learning

Get your child actively involved in their own learning and having their questions drive the learning. Let them observe and figure out, and try to hold back from answering questions for them. Instead, try to ask: What do we know? What else can we find out? How might we figure that out? Don't be afraid to ask your child questions.  Also, don't be afraid to say "I don't know--let's find out together!" as a way to respond to their questions.  Here's an article to help you support this kind of learning:  Of the Value of Saying I Don’t Know


Want to learn more about trees and leaves?

  • Digital Books: 
    • (available free on Hoopla with a Cambridge Public Library card)
    • Identifying Trees of The East by Michael D. Williams
    • Telling Trees: An Illustrated Guide by Julius King
    • Nature All Around: Trees by Pamela Hickman
    • Leaves by Alicia Klepis
    • Trees by Phoebe McGuffee
    • Nature's Colors by Phoebe McGuffee


  • Print Books (curbside pick-up starts next week):
    • A Beginner's Guide to Recognizing Trees of the Northeast by Mark Mikolas
    • Tree Finder: A Manual for the Identification of Trees by Their Leaves by May Theilgaard Watts
    • Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast by Michael Wojtech
    • Nature All Around: Trees by Pamela Hickman
    • A Pile of Leaves by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin
    • A Leaf Can Be... by Laura Purdie Salas 
  • Arbor Day Foundation: What Tree is That? 
  • Leafsnap

More hands on activities and learning opportunities:

Peep & The Big Wide World - Tree Detective (JK-2)

Peep & The Big Wide World - Branching Out (JK-2)

CitySprouts - Identify Trees in Your Neighborhood (JK-8)

Exploratorium - Photosynthesis Flotation (K-8)

ErthNxt- Dancing Trees (JK-1)



Bite Sci-zed - Leaf Color Chromatography (K-8) (start of activity at 2:12; can subsitute acetone-based nail polish remover for alcohol)


MIT K12 Videos- Time for Me to Leaf: Tree Chlorophyl Chromatography


More STEAM@Home suggestions!