Learning about seasons with autumn colours

Published on Tuesday, 17 March 2020
Last updated on Thursday, 12 March 2020

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What better way to learn about seasons than through experiencing them and as autumn, or ngahuru, heralds its arrival with leaves of gold and burnt orange, now is a great time to start.

For a young child, the gradual shift from one season to another can be a difficult concept to grasp, however, with experiential learning and outdoor activities children can quickly learn to recognise the changing seasons as well as the passage of time.  

The exploration of seasons includes lots of observation, outdoor exploration, and flat-out fun. To teach children about the seasons, use pictures and books to describe changes, such as piles of dry leaves for autumn, rain and snow for winter, the beach for summer and flowers for spring. 

Move the focus to autumn by pointing out the colourful changes on trees and plants and point out the change in temperature. Ngahuru is also the word for harvest, which traditionally occurred at this time and the saying “Ngahuru, kura kai, kura tangata” (harvest-time, wealth of food, the wealth of the people) meant that food was plentiful in autumn.

Here are three simple activities to teach children about the wonder of the seasons.

Experience the season

Explore nature and offer children firsthand experience to learn what autumn is all about. Look for opportunities in the playground – or visit a local park. If your playground is small try wheeling in a barrow of different coloured leaves for children to feel, smell and scrunch. 

  • Take a sensory walk. Ask the children to stop, watch, listen, smell and touch. As you explore, expand their vocabulary by asking questions. Is the temperature cold or freezing? Hot or boiling? Does the air taste fresh or damp? Do you feel rain, hail, or mist? If you have a deciduous tree and the leaves have started falling, watch it. Ask the children to guess how many leaves will fall from that tree in one minute. Use a timer and keep count. You could even send this activity home for children to do with their families.
  • Gather leaves. Organise a scavenger hunt and ask children to collect a small pile of different leaves. Sort them by how they feel, colour or shape. Count how many shades of red, yellow, green and brown in the collection. Use the leaves for measuring. You can also organise the children to place the leaves side by side on an A4 sized piece of paper – from one end to the other – and then ask them to count them. For more fun and creative leaf activities try Project Learning Tree
  • Keep a science journal. Organise an outdoor paint area for children to draw what they see – ask them to capture leaf colours, autumn clothing and the sky. Do it again in a month and see if there are any changes in their work. If you have a deciduous tree ask them to observe if it has changed – some photos will help here – and record it in the journal with the children’s observations. Try pressing some leaves or any flowers that are blooming. You could place a photo every fortnight on a display board to show the tree changing. Also encourage families to try this at home by photographing a tree that’s changing. 

Taste the season

Educating children about seasonal food has far-reaching benefits because not only does it help children learn more about where food comes from, it may encourage them to try new healthy foods.

Present a rainbow with the extra appeal of fresh brightly coloured seasonal fruit and vegetables. Autumn foods include fruits such as avocado, grapes, kiwifruit, mandarins and passionfruit. While top picks for vegetables are capsicum, carrots, cucumbers, kumara, cauliflower and cabbage.

Using a range of different mediums can help to engage children and reinforce key messages about food seasonality. Engage the concept of seasonality by using songs, visuals, stories and a wide range of practical activities like displaying a calendar of foods in season. This is a great visual tool and can highlight the foods that are best each month.

Autumn crafts

Involve nature in daily play and creating, as art and craft supplies don’t all have to come from a store and some of the best crafting materials are just outside the door. Natural art and craft materials such as flowers, leaves, twigs, bark, seedpods and stones can be found in almost any playground. Additional items will already be in the cupboard.

There are numerous benefits to finding and using natural materials in early learning services, including the fact they are free, children go outside to collect them, they increase language and observational skills through hands-on discovery and it’s fun and it inspires creativity. Continue the learning by talking about the kinds of materials they have collected. What was the most common? What was hard to find? What was their favourite, and why?

Natural objects could include rocks, stones, leaves, bark, feathers, seed pods, and twigs. Here are some general craft ideas:

  • Sort the collection into groups, such as type, where they were found, colour, size and shape.
  • Match items that feel similar (e.g. rough, smooth) or look similar (shape, colour).
  • Add to playdough or clay to provide opportunities for children to combine materials (for example, use seed pods for eyes, sticks for arms and legs).
  • Create art with leaves, try leaf rubbings to observe shapes and patterns (for example, place a leaf under a blank paper and rub with a crayon or pastel).
  • Create a collage (mahi toi) by arranging natural objects or gluing them to card.
  • Make 'natural' cupcakes by putting out some paper cupcake cases and provide clay or play dough for the cake. The toppings and candles can be sticks, leaves and stones.

References and additional resources

Fall vs spring lesson plan 

Education.com: 10 Ways to Teach Your Child About the Seasons

Parenta: Teaching children about eating seasonal food 

Suzy and Friends: Factsheet on autumn leaves 

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