I don’t know about y’all, but fall is my number-one season. Break out the autumn sweaters and decorative gourds! For families and caregivers with young children, this season also provides endless opportunities for early learning. Here are a few of my favorite activities which I look forward to year-round.
Leaf Rubbings: Creating leaf rubbings can be magical; children react with joy when the outline of a leaf appears on what looks to be a blank piece of paper. Start by collecting an assortment of fallen leaves, see if you can find leaves with points as well as leaves that are round. Place your leaf on a flat surface, and place a blank piece of paper over it. Peel the wrapper off of a crayon, and rub the crayon lengthwise on the paper. The outline of the leaf will appear! This simple activity helps to support writing skills, as it encourages writing instrument holding, and provides motivation to repeat the skill. Pointing out the shapes of the leaves (especially those round curves and the sharp points) develops a child’s letter knowledge, since you are reinforcing the shapes that many letters are formed out of.
Squash Sorting: All of those mini pumpkins and decorative gourds that exude fall can also be used to support a child’s early math and literacy skills. Collect an assortment of mini gourds and pumpkins and see how many different ways a child can sort them. Maybe they decide to group them by color or pattern. Some might go in a pile of stemless; some still have their stems. This ability to notice similarities and differences is a foundational skill for letter knowledge, as children will use this to categorize letters and eventually words. Another fun activity for sharpening those observational skills is to hide the gourds around the home and see if a child can find (and count!) them all.
You can also count the number of gourds; try counting backwards for a challenge! Even very young children have the capacity to understand that numbers are related to quantity, and the more experience they have with counting, the stronger their foundation.
Fall-Themed Sensory Bin: Sensory bins are great for all children, as they provide an immersive tactile play experience. Some benefits include providing prompts for vocabulary development as you talk about the items in the bin, and spatial awareness as they handle, scoop, pour and compare the items they find. Ready to create your own sensory bin?
Choose a bin to store items in; choose a size which works for your household and the age of the child. A plastic box with a secure lid is best for a sensory bin that can be used time and time again.
Next, select a filler for the sensory bin. The filler is the foundation for the tactile experience. For babies and toddlers, dried pasta is a popular sensory bin filler. For children older than three, uncooked rice, dried popcorn kernels, or dried beans make great fillers. Whatever you choose, make sure it is non-toxic and that it doesn’t pose a choking hazard.
Add fall-themed nature items. You can gather items on a walk, or even at a playground. Keep in mind that items in sensory bins for children younger than three should be larger than 1.25” in diameter, or too large to fit through a toilet paper tube. For babies and toddlers, you can include toys you might already have on hand that would work with a fall theme, such as woodland creatures. You can also select toys that are brown, orange, red and yellow for a fall color scheme. For preschoolers, you can include items such as pinecones, acorns, cut sections of wood, large seeds like buckeyes, seedpods, or even small pumpkins. Include some cups and spoons for scooping to encourage play. Explore the sensory bins in an outside setting, or lay out a sheet under the bin for easy cleanup.
Looking for more ways to explore the fall season? Check out this collection of fall themed books compiled by a Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Children’s Specialist!
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