To paint the leaves, I had 3 bottles of acrylic paint which we had picked up at the dollar store: red, orange, and yellow. (although, really you would only need red and yellow.) I squirted a little bit of each paint colour onto individual saucers. I then cut up dollar-store sponges into 1/2" - 1" blocks, and showed Adelaide how she could dab a little paint onto each sponge and use them to dap and mix and blend colours all together to paint a leaf.
While Addie happily painted away, I used a glue gun and wire cutters and began to cut and glue wire "spines" onto the back of each leaf. When the glue dried, I found that I could bend and shape each leaf to look quite real. With a bit of trial and error, I found that a thinner wire around 16 - 18g worked best for these leaves. I glued and collected up a bunch of paper leaves in this manner, and bent and worked the wires until they looked authentic and were ready to be painted up. As Addie finished up her first practice leaf, I was ready to pass her the leaves I had ready-to-go.
Note: After seeing how the paper leaves dried - quite solid and stiff, I think that it is important to bend your leaves into shape first before painting them. I found that if I bent the wires when the paint was wet, the paper could tear. And if I bent the wires when the painted leaves were dry, then they could crack.
Painting leaves kept Adelaide very occupied and busy for almost two hours. Together we ended up making about 15 or 20 leaves in this manner, and so it was time for a break. Leaving the leaves to dry, we headed to the forest to find a nice branch for them. By time we had returned, the leaves were mostly all dry, and I found that they had dried quite solidly - surprisingly, they weren't very fragile at all. Happy with the results, Adelaide and I selected some of the prettiest leaves and I used bits of brown florist tape - which I had purchased ahead at Micheal's - and taped leaves to the branch, one by one.
Placed all together on a branch, Adelaide's leaves really do look quite real! At the very least, they do not look like they were painted by a three-year-old. Adelaide was thrilled and we are both very happy with the results of our project.
These painted leaves are so lovely and can be used in many ways - taped onto a branch and kept in a vase as we have, or perhaps all along a branch for a thanksgiving table centerpiece. I think it would be nice for perhaps each member of a class or a family to paint their own leaf, and write their names on them to make a family tree. Or even woven into a garland for a door frame or window. All around a wreath. Or even just to keep as a single leaf, tacked to a bulletin board to keep for always. I think that it may be nice to make some more leaves in spring or summer, all green and yellow and happy.