Kids’ Corner: Get your chlorophyll of plants

Elizabeth Kubey Photo: Jisoo Kim

By Elizabeth Kubey

What is your favorite recipe? One of mine is butternut squash chili! I go to the store to pick up all the ingredients for my favorite dish. But unlike us, plants can’t go shopping for their meals. Instead, they use the ingredients in their environment to make their own food. These activities will show us what that’s like for our plant friends.

Before we start our activities, let’s learn some terms:

Photosynthesis is from Greek words: photo=light, synthesis=putting things together. Physical change is when matter (stuff) changes in appearance without making a different kind of matter. Example: Cutting a whole apple into slices Chemical change happens when stuff turns into different matter with different properties. Example: A rotting apple Chlorophyll is a green pigment (natural color) found in many plants. It helps make food from sunlight, air, and water. Chloroplasts are the part of a plant where photosynthesis happens. Chlorophyll reflects green light. That’s why most plants look green



 Best for ages 8+  20 minutes Camera Printer Drawing Materials
Photosynthesis flow
Photosynthesis is energy transformation. Energy is power that comes from chemical or physical sources. Our bodies transform food we eat into energy we can use to be active. Plants take in light energy and transform it into chemical energy to make food (glucose). That’s called photosynthesis.
Now that you know a bit more about photosynthesis, let’s connect the process to native plants around you.

Photosynthesis process with a violet (Viola sp.) by Elizabeth Kubey
  1. Find a native plant and see if you can imagine how the photosynthesis process flows through this plant.
  2. Take a photo of a native plant and print it out.
  3. Following the example, draw the arrows and label what the arrows show. You can imagine what the roots might look like below the soil or research in a book or online what they look like.
  4. Compare your photo to a friend’s!



Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides). Photo: Elizabeth Kubey

Fall colors
Looking at the photo on the right,
How many different colors do you see in these leaves?
If you see more than one color, why do you think that is?

Go outside and find a tree in your neighborhood. Take photos of the same tree leaves over the season to see how they change.



Relay Race

(Lesson and images adapted from
Best for ages 10+ 30 minutes Group of 4-10 Green construction paper 10 index cards
Envelopes Glue Marker Paper Flashlight Kids scissors

Photosynthesis requires teamwork between all players in the process! Let’s play a fun game to work together and better understand photosynthesis: water + carbon dioxide + sunlight = oxygen

Before we start our activities, let’s start learn some terms:

Assembly (15 minutes)
Cut two large green leaves. Glue an envelope on each side of the leaf with the open side facing out. Label the envelopes on opposite sides of the leaves with “IN” and “OUT.”On 5 index cards label each one with one part
of photosynthesis: water, carbon dioxide, oxygen, glucose (sugar). Repeat this on 5 more cards to make two sets. Optional: Decorate your cards to be easily read like a raindrop for water
Set up (5 minutes)
Put cards for oxygen and glucose in the “OUT” envelope of the leaves. Put water and carbon dioxide cards in piles at the start line. Put the leaves at a distance you can run to from the start line. Put flashlights by the leaves.
Let’s play! (10 minutes)
Split into two teams. On the word go, the first member of the team takes either a “carbon dioxide” or “water” card from the start, runs to the leaf, and puts it into the “IN” pocket of their leaf. They run back and tag the next person. The second player takes other start line card. The next person runs to the leaf, shines the flashlight on the leaf and says “photosynthesis,” turns it off and then runs back.
Now the leaf has had all the ingredients for photosynthesis! The next player runs to the leaf and takes out just one of the cards in the “OUT” pocket and runs it back to the team. The fifth player runs to the leaf, takes the last card out of the “OUT” pocket and runs with it back to the team. The fastest team wins that round!
You can play more rounds where everyone dances, hops, skips, or walk backwards to the leaf! .

Thank you, plants!

Best for ages 6+ 15 minutes Paper Pen
Photosynthesis is an important process that sustains life on Earth. Plants provide us cleaner air and water, food, and medicines.

In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who
take care of us.
― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

Find a space to write thank you letters. First, write a letter from you to a native plant. Then, write one as if you were that plant thanking a part of your ecosystem for helping you thrive. Maybe even write a third one to a family member you forget to say thanks to! Use the example letter to get started.

Share your letters with Elizabeth! Post on social media
and tag @californianativeplantsociety or email her at

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