Fun with Fall – Autumn Activities for Toddlers and Early Learning
There is so much children learn about their world through first-hand experiences and play. Giving them the opportunity to explore what the seasons have to offer in their environment while the seasons change allows a child to learn more about the world that is natural to our time and place, and there are always a plethora of learning experiences intertwined. Here are some ideas for awesome Autumn activities that are sensitive to the fall environment of the Canadian West Coast.
There is nothing more classically fun to do in fall than to gather up a large pile of colourful leaves for jumping in and throwing. Gathering leaves is a very physical activity, whether you’re using a rake or scooping up armfuls of leaves, as is the “fun part” of diving in and tossing them up in the air.
While playing in the leaves you can talk about the different types of trees they fell from, the different colours of leaves, make notice of the way the leaves slowly float down, and engage in problem solving about the best way to effectively gather (and keep, if the wind is a factor!) a lot of leaves in one spot. Ask the children for their theories on why the changes might be happening, and how they might find out more about it.
Visit a Pumpkin Patch
Taking a stroll through a large field with row after row of plump, orange pumpkins can be a lovely way to spend an autumn day. Before you pick out a pumpkin or two to take home, invite your child to look around at all the different pumpkins, noting sizes, textures, shapes, colours, and smells.
If you find any crushed or rotten pumpkins, you may be able to see the seeds and insides of the pumpkins, too. You can talk about how pumpkins are plants, what they need to grow, and how they move from seeds to large pumpkins and continue the cycle.
You don’t always have to plan a big, extravagant activity for children to engage and enjoy learning about their world. Simply providing some elements to be discovered by the senses through open-ended play and exploration can offer a wealth of learning opportunities. Find some natural materials that represent the fall in your neck of the woods, and set these out as an invitation to discover at the children’s own pace and interests.
Some of the items you might consider offering are leaves from various types of trees, in various colours and sizes, pumpkins and gourds, acorns and chestnuts, and pinecones. Setting things up in a visually appealing way often draws children in and gives a certain feeling of importance to the experience.
A beautiful way to explore the fall foliage is to collect some leaves of different types to make rubbings from. The best leaves for this are ones that are not too “crunchy” or thin, with distinctive veins or bumps. On a flat surface, show your child how to hold a piece of paper over top of a leaf and use a crayon to rub back and forth on the paper where the leaf is. With the right materials, an impression of the leaf showing the shape, veins and stem should appear. A wax crayon on it’s side usually works best, but a variety of mark-making tools could be offered for exploring, such as pencil crayons, markers, pencils, and pens. I also try to keep a feel for the season by providing fall colours – reds, yellows, oranges and browns.
Some questions to encourage children to investigate further are: How are the leaves different? What do you think these lines are (the veins)? What do you think they do? Why do you think there are different colours of leaves? What are some leaves “crunchier” than others? Remember, this is not an interview – allow these queries to develop naturally and with the child’s interest.
Painting with Nature
Providing a tool for an artistic activity often sparks an interest in children who may not normally be drawn to art. Gathering some items from the outdoors to try as an alternative to a brush makes a whole new experience out of painting. It’s likely that the “leaf brushes” may also become the canvas for painting on, or become a part of the artwork itself.
Collecting the items on a walk together can be a completely separate activity as preparation for this experience, and could initiate thinking about what might make interesting marks.
*Note: in the pictured activity we were using a home-made, edible paint that didn’t quite work out as I’d envisioned, so this could have worked out better in terms of clear marks and prints from the tools.
A particularly seasonal tool to use with paint is an apple. With apples dropping all around us, there is no shortage of windfall apples that won’t be used for human consumption, saving on food waste. An interesting feature of an apple is that, when cut in half horizontally, a star can usually be found. This opens up the door for a learning experience about shapes, seeds and growth, local harvests, and makes for a very cool print. To provoke thought on how what we grow becomes the food we eat, try to name together as many ways as possible to eat an apple (apple pie, apple juice, apple bars and so on).
Be prepared to get messy, as you can see how easy it is for those little fingers to slip from apple-holders to paint brushes. If you prefer a little less mess and easier clean-up, stab a fork into the top of each apple half to use as a handle and slip on an apron, old shirt, or garbage bag with head and arm holes.
Given that fall is officially upon us, there is probably a puddle out there right now that’s begging to be jumped in. The process of getting ready for an adventure of puddle hopping can in itself be a learning experience of both fine and gross motor skills, as well as self-help, and is sure to provide the space for getting in some fresh air and a bounty of exercise. If you don’t already have the right rain and puddle-jumping gear for your little ones, check out this post for What to Wear for Wet Outdoor Fun.
I hope you get a chance to enjoy these autumn activities ideas with your home-schooled, home-from-school, or pre-school children in the crisp and beautiful autumn days to come! As William Wordsworth said, “Let Nature be your Teacher.”