The end of summer and the approach of winter can be a challenging time for young children. They may have just become accustomed to sunny days and light nights when the autumn chill starts to creep in and the countdown to Christmas begins in the shops.
But autumn is a season rich in learning opportunities, without the restrictions of extreme heat or cold. Children who do not fare well in the sun (such as those with fair skin) may feel a lot more comfortable in September and October and, consequently, be more receptive to learning.
This season is full of exciting events, such as the harvest festival, Halloween, and bonfire night, and lends itself well to teaching colours, textures, and cycles. Here are a few tips for navigating the ‘in-between months’ of autumn.
Flexibility & Preparation
Firstly, be flexible with your plans to suit the weather. Autumn may yield high temperatures, rain, fog, or even snow, sometimes all in a single week! The weather is unpredictable and can change extremely quickly. This means you must be prepared for any and all weathers. Don’t put the sun cream away, as it may still be needed, but locate a large umbrella and wellies. Urge parents to pack waterproofs and layers.
Small children feel the cold quickly and can struggle to warm themselves up so ensure the temperature doesn’t drop inside the classroom or nursery. If that means having the heating on one day and the windows open the next, so bet it.
It is also perfectly acceptable to abandon a rainy day activity (to return to later) to make the most of an unforeseen burst of sunshine. Likewise, if you have a nature walk planned and the heavens open to an unmanageable degree, change your plans and make use of online resources or other indoor activities.
Change with the Seasons
Speaking of which, children learn by repetition and find it comforting, but they are stimulated by new experiences, textures, and sensations.
We recommend making changes to the classroom environment and lesson plans to reflect the new season. Replace stories of summer holidays with books about autumn days, introduce stuffed animal hedgehogs, owls, foxes, and badgers, and swap the sand for leaves and twigs or straw.
You can create autumnal art together to decorate the classroom or nursery, such as paintings, mobiles, and fabric wall hangings.
Cycles & Progression
With the Harvest Festival taking place in late September or early October, autumn is a fantastic time to teach the children about cycles and progression.
A couple of activities you might like to try include:
- Farm-based or grocers role play – set up a shop or farm space where the children can ‘grow’ or sell their
- Sorting seeds
- Make a wheel showing the harvest cycle
- Make a scarecrow – either a big one, or small handheld versions
- Make dough dollies or harvest festival shapes and cook them in the oven
Last, but by no means least, hold a harvest festival concert, teach the children a traditional song and invite their parents. You could even make simple costumes and have each child play a role.
A harvest festival may be something you wish to record, and our photo books could be a great way to capture the memories.
We’re big advocates of using nature to nurture young minds, and autumn is ripe with natural resources to fascinate and educate young children, as well as encouraging their imaginations.
Firstly, autumn is gloriously colourful and, more than that, tonal. Whereas in the Summer, there is a stark and obvious contrast between the green grass, yellow sun and blue sky, Autumn is all about subtly different tones, which are still ripe and vibrant.
Go for a walk through crunchy leaves and take some back with you to study. Make a colour chart and have the children compare the leaves.
Mix different shades of browns, reds, oranges and yellows to illustrate have many tones there can be. The class can draw or paint leaves from scratch, or use the ones you’ve collected to create textured art.
As well as the crunchy leaves, autumn brings us conkers and pine cones. These items are perfect for sensory baskets and shape identification. You can also use resources such as animal cards to identify textures such as hedgehog’s spikes or a fox’s bushy tail.
Food is where colour and texture meet, particularly with each month seeing more fruit and veg come into season. You can print off, or better yet make a monthly food calendar with the children, helping them to learn which foods are in season and incorporating them into the weekly menu, where possible. Eating seasonally is not just an environmentally friendly way to shop, but a great way to introduce new foods into a child’s diet. For example, September is a good month for apples, raspberries, red currants and tomatoes in the UK. October sees chestnuts, pears, butternut squash and pumpkins come into season.
You can bring in more unusual fruit and veg and have the children guess what they might be. Encourage taste tests and ask the children to describe Sites such as eattheseasons.co.uk are an excellent resource for this. You can also refer to our Nutrition in the Early Years course, to ensure the children in your care are enjoying a well-balanced diet and getting plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Before you know it, it will be Halloween, then Bonfire Night, and soon it will be time to put up the Christmas tree! In the meantime, we hope you and the children in your care enjoy everything that autumn has to offer.