Autumn is undoubtedly by favourite season: we spend most of our days outside, collecting nature treasures which we then use in play so I’ve rounded up 24 activities that you can try with your toddlers and pre-schoolers at home.
Making use of what you have:
You’ll notice that many of the same materials (largely pumpkins and pinecones!) have been used over and over for different activities: we try to avoid waste as much as possible, and so really get mileage out of items that we buy or collect.
What about Halloween?
Whilst we don’t have anything at all against Halloween, I always find that Autumn (or fall, depending on where you are from), kinda gets shunted aside in favour of the ghoulish activities. Autumn is such a beautiful, magical time of year in it’s own right – the abundance of fallen nature treasures are the perfect opportunity to really let children explore their senses.
In the early years particularly, be mindful of your young child’s ability to distinguish from real and pretend themes. Halloween can be really scary for little ones who cannot understand how the fun holiday differs from reality.
To little ones, the changes of season in themselves are just as exciting. The activities featured here should give your toddlers and pre-schoolers plenty of opportunities to explore.
Age Recommendations & Safety:
As with all of the activities featured on the blog, you know your child’s ability best. If your child still has a tendency to mouth everything insight – avoid using small items such as conkers (they are poisonous if ingested).
Check any spices you use for play. Nutmeg is considered a hallucinogenic so use it sparingly if you try the pumpkin spice dough recipe.
Any planned activity should always be done under the supervision of an adult.
24 Autumn Themed Activities for Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers
1. Pumpkin Wash
This is such a simple sensory activity to try with ‘older’ mini pumpkins that you have. Here we dyed the water red for a more Autumnal theme and added washing up liquid to make it bubbly.
The addition of scoops and spoons helps fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
2. Spice Paint
This was an activity we originally shared on our sister page, Teach Investigate Play, you can read all about it here.
3. ‘Fireworks’ Pre-Writing Tray
November the 5th is pretty famous in the UK, thanks to Guy Faulks buy this DIY sensory table makes a great Autumnal pre-writing activity, regardless. Find out how to make your own here.
4. Elastic Pull
Mini pumpkins are so versatile for Autumn themed activities. We buy several from the local florist here in Vienna every year.
Wrap some elastic bands around the pumpkins and invite your child to pull them off again. This activity is good for fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and perseverance!
5. Pre-writing Tray with Autumnal Loose Parts
Draw lines, squiggles and shapes onto a flat surface. Here we used chalk on a tuff spot tray, but you could just as easily go outside or even draw on paper.
This activity is great for pre-writing skills, as your child places the loose parts on the shapes, they will start to be able to follow the formations made.
6. Puddle Jumping!
Okay, so this is an obvious childhood favourite, but it’s also one of the easiest forms of sensory play during the Autumnal months.
The key, of course, is dressing for the occasion. To avoid new kit getting too expensive, we buy waterproofs at least one size too big so they can be used again the following season.
7. Nature Treasure Match
With all the nature treasures you’ll undoubtedly collect over the Autumn season, you’ll want something to do with them – right?
This matching activity is about as simple as it gets and you can read more about it here.
8. Woodland Pawprints
Play dough is one of our go-to activities no matter what the season. This pawprint activity works particularly well after a trip to the forest to help pique your little one’s interest in the animals that might live there.
9. Gourd Geoboard
Try this activity with older pumpkins. It’s a great way to help develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, as well as explore shapes! You can read more about it here.
10. Conker Counting
There’s always an abundance of conkers in the local parks and they can be used for so many fine motor activities.
Read more about this early numeracy activity here
11. Pumpkin Fizz
Give your pumpkins a good send off at the end of the season with this simple STEAM activity.
Once you’ve cut the pumpkin open and scooped out the middle, add some bicarb of soda. Mix some water and white vinegar together with food colouring, then let your children have fun experimenting!
12. Letter Match
This is great for both letter recognition and fine motor skills. It really helps pre-schoolers distinguish between uppercase and lowercase letters. You can read more about variations here.
13. Pumpkin Patch
Sensory rice is a fun activity no matter what the season – you can find out our signature recipe by downloading our free ‘Playful Days at Home’ guide at the bottom of this post.
14. Name Recognition
Stickers are great to use in conjunction with pumpkins, because it means you can get more mileage out of them.
We ordered a stack of dot stickers from Amazon last year and they have come in handy for a range of educational activities – like this name recognition match.
15. Sensory Kitchen
We struggled to get any mileage out of our IKEA play kitchen until we ditched (donated) the play food in favour of real loose parts. Again, the mini pumpkins are just perfect for play in conjunction with pinecones and other nature treasures.
16. Leaf Painting
Autumnal paints combined with nature treasures makes for such a pretty picture. We’re big fans of process art in the early years: it’s so important to let little ones explore textures and materials, rather than focus on the end product. This activity provides the ideal opportunity to let early learners get creative without the pressure of making a certain picture.
Tip: if you object to the end result becoming a brown dirge, try using a smaller, complimentary selection of colours.
17. Pumpkin Process Art
Whilst pumpkin carving is undoubtedly fun, it’s also practically impossible for little ones to do safely so here’s an alternatively: no-carve pumpkin process art.
Again, if you choose a limited range of complimentary colours – or even use this as an opportunity to learn about colour theory – then you can put the finished pumpkin on display, too.
18. Pumpkin Squish Bag
Although this was originally shared as a baby play activity, it could also work for children who are a little reluctant to try sensory play.
You can read more here.
19. Leaf Threading
Before collected leaves turn too crispy, try using them as an introductory sewing activity.
Use a blunt needle (you can buy special ones for children from most craft shops) and let them explore. We use the finished result as a leaf garland.
20. Pumpkin Spice Play Dough
Homemade play dough is something my daughter and I make together, approximately every month – pumpkin spice being one of our absolute favourites. As we can’t easily get pumpkin spice mix here without it costing an absolute fortune, we make it all from scratch.
It makes for such a gorgeous sensory activity, which is practical and useful too.
Read all about how to make your own pumpkin spice mix here.
21. Pinecone Roll
Another fall themed process art activity to try – this time with pinecones.
Place blobs of autumnal themed paints into the bottom of a cardboard box, then add the pinecones.
This activity is a great gross motor skills workout.
22. Pumpkin Weigh-In
If your child has a fascination with numbers, this activity will really pique their curiosity.
It’s also a good opportunity to extend mathematical vocabulary:
e.g. which pumpkin is heaviest? lightest?
23. Loose Parts Tray
The IKEA Glis box lends itself perfectly to a whole range of loose parts play. We have four on rotation for various activities and the autumn themed box is one of our favourites.
If you intend to keep conkers for play, preserve them by soaking in vinegar overnight, then baking on a low heat (around 100c) for a couple of hours.
24. Starbucks Role Play
I’m not going to lie, I really do love a good pumpkin spice latte during the Autumn months! At the time of writing this, disposable cups were mandatory (thanks to Covid), so I brought them home and washed them out for role play.
We used these in conjunction with our pumpkin spice play dough and dried flowers for a fun little role play set up.
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