In the first plane of Montessori development, children have absorbent minds whereby they absorb information from their environment with ease. Therefore, it's key to expose our children to the outdoors. Nature is the best classroom and outdoor exposure is highly beneficial for children.
With outdoor experiences, toddlers can make lots of observations about nature. Seasonal changes is one of them. Toddlers can visually see trees change color, feel the climate become cooler and even point out some woodland animals.
As my toddler and I head into fall (also called autumn in other parts of the world), these are 10+ low-cost, fun and hands-on fall activities I've created for her.
10+ Indoor Montessori-inspired Fall Activities for Toddlers
These fall-themed activities help her understand seasonal changes, learn about the fall season, fruits/vegetables harvested in this period, animal behaviours as they prepare for winter hibernation, events/holidays during this season, as well as initiate a discussion about thanksgiving and gratitude.
1. Tree Changes Craft
"Watching the Seasons" by Edana Eckart is a great resource book for this activity.
Through this activity, children learn about the seasons -- spring, summer, fall, and winter, and that the weather is different during each season. As the weather changes, plants change, too, particularly the color of leaves. DK Find Out! shares a kid-friendly scientific explanation for the change of color in leaves.
I cut out 4 tree trunks and glued them to a large cardboard, labelling the seasons for each. Then, I pasted double-sided tape on the tree branches and guided my toddler to stick cut out leaves onto the trees.
The tree in spring has green leaves and illustrated flowers.
The tree in summer has green leaves and bears fruits.
The tree in fall has brown/red/yellow leaves and is shedding.
The tree in winter is bare, covered in snowflakes.
It is fascinating for children to learn about trees' adaptability to the seasons.
2. Pumpkin Dot Sticker Counting Activity
This activity utilises dot stickers to encourage counting and one-to-one correspondence, in a pumpkin theme that signifies fall.
The setup is simple -- I illustrated empty wagons and wrote numbers beside them in random order. On orange dot stickers, I used permanent black marker to draw the ribbed surface of pumpkins. Then, I invited my toddler to identify the numeral, and stick the corresponding number of pumpkins onto the wagons.
If your child is fond of this activity, try other creative dot sticker counting activities that are similar.
This activity is great for independent math learning as well as fine motor development.
3. Chipmunk Acorn Counting Activity
This activity is chipmunk themed, another favourite fall animal of children.
You could go on a nature stroll to collect nature loose parts and leverage actual acorns for this activity.
The setup is simple -- illustrate a chipmunk, and numeral cardboard pieces.
Take out a number of acorns, invite your toddler to count and place the corresponding numeral cardboard into the round circle.
It is interesting to share with children that a single chipmunk can gather up to 165 acorns in a day, according to National Geographic Kids.
4. Squirrel Acorn Sensory Play
This activity combines sensory play with alphabet letter learning, and is inspired by Cardboard Kiddo.
The objective of the activity is for the child to unearth the acorns buried in the sensory rice, and feed them to the squirrel.
During the play conversation, you could share with your child that squirrels eat large quantities of acorns and also stash a substantial amount to see them through the winter, when food is scarce.
A play extension idea of this activity is to bury cardboard pieces with letters written on them into the sensory rice, and invite your child to find them and match to fall-themed words/phrases.
This letter hunt helps to boost letter learning in a fun, effortless manner. The tactile experience helps with better memory retention and recall.
With older children, challenge them to come up with more fall associated words and phrases to seek!
5. Fall Tree Craft
This fall tree craft is great post nature stroll, especially during fall, when leaves are showered everywhere and it's easy to gather the materials for crafting.
I upcycled the artwork canvas from cutting a kraft paper bag.
This means the illustrated tree is already in brown, and the canvas is larger than the standard drawing paper that children are used to.
Dried leaves make a crinkling sound when scrunched up, and my toddler enjoyed exploring their textures and sound effects as she did the craft with me.
This activity also provides the opportunity for children to learn about the anatomy of a tree and identify the different tree parts.
6. Pine Cone Size Sorting
Pine cones come in a multitude of shapes, sizes and patterns. This pine cone size sorting activity allows for closer exploration and examination of these nature finds.
During the play conversation with your child, you might like to share that pine cones differ in sizes based on the gender and type of trees.
I found Earth Rangers' website informative on this subject matter with their clear, vivid images.
Size sorting is great for improving visual discrimination, spatial awareness and logical reasoning skills in children. Other size sorting activities using everyday household items can be found here.
7. Pumpkin Emotions Activity
This activity aims to help children learn visual expressions of emotions, encourage communication and let them understand that all feelings are normal and irregardless of whether they are positive or negative feelings, they are accepted.
The smooth yet ribbed surface of pumpkins provides for a novel and sensorial drawing experience for children. Drawing on a rounded surface takes more coordination and aim than on a flat surface, so this activity makes for a great fine motor workout.
I drew a few emotions and shared simple real-life examples on when we feel them.
Doing a familiar activity (drawing) with a twist (new surface) provokes and extends thinking and boundaries.
Reversible drawing also enforces cause and effect learning.
8. Jack O Lantern Pumpkin Shape Sorting
This activity turns cardboard boxes into Jack O Lanterns, and invites children to pop wooden blocks into corresponding shape holes on the cardboard.
As children engage in shape sorting, they understand spatial relationships between objects.
Tips for setup:
- Space the shapes far apart enough so that rough pushing of blocks through the holes won’t easily cause the holes to tear and join
- Try to make sure the fit is tight so there’s a bit of tactile resistance for pushing the blocks through the holes
- Cut out one side of the box so that toddlers can retrieve the dropped wooden blocks independently
This simple Jack O Lantern cardboard toy is great for improving hand eye coordination, building focus and concentration and enhancing fine motor skills.
9. Jack O Lantern Pumpkin Posting Activity
This activity transforms an egg crate into rows of pumpkins and provides toddlers with the opportunity to do repeated posting, a great fine motor activity.
Invite your toddler to paint the egg crate orange and draw Jack O Lantern faces.
Then poke holes into each egg crate compartment about the size of straws. Provide short upcycled straws for toddlers to post into the holes. Use green straws to pass off as pumpkin stalks.
This activity is wonderful for cause and effect learning, as well as fine motor development.
10. Googly-eyed Pumpkin Monsters
This activity invites children to animate pumpkins, and turn them into 'monsters'. It serves as a fun Halloween-themed activity, as children would delight in creating expressions for these little pumpkins.
Note that Montessori is realism-based and does not encourage fantasy (like monsters) for young children, so introduce this activity at your discretion.
If you do proceed -- the setup is simple. Paste double-sided tape over the surface of the pumpkins and provide googly eyes for children to stick onto the pumpkin.
This makes a great fine motor activity too as children practise their pincer grip, motor planning and hand-eye coordination.
You could incorporate Math learning by encouraging your child to count the eyes as he/she attaches it to the pumpkin.
Play extension ideas include encouraging your child to draw other facial features (nose/mouth/ears/eyebrows) to complement the googly eyes.
After the activity, you could utilise the lightly used double-sided tape for other art and craft activities and keep the googly eyes for future use. In this way, there's zero waste generated.
This open-ended activity also allows for self-expression and creativity.
Lastly, incorporate rich vocabulary during play (e.g. descriptive words for the pumpkins, adjectives for feelings) to boost language development.
11. Fall Soup Sensory Play
This activity is great post outdoor stroll especially for toddlers who enjoy picking fall items from nature. A mix of items like maple leaves, pine cones, acorns and rocks would be superb for diversity in weight, size, colors and texture.)
It is easy to setup -- simply put the nature loose parts in a container (optionally add pumpkins, squashes or gourds from the grocery store) and pair this activity with water play. Adding food colouring into the water is also optional but may enhance the visual sensorial experience.
Provide items for object filling and transfer such as cups, bowls, ladles and scoops.
This is an activity that's ideal for the bathtub so you could wash up easily.
For older children, you could introduce science concepts like floating vs sinking (e.g. leaves float while pine cones sink).
12. Fall Nature Loose Parts Sorting
This is another fall-themed activity that is great if your toddler enjoys collecting nature loose parts. I also incorporated pumpkin-shaped pasta pieces from Trader's Joe.
The sorting container is made using upcycled plastic dividers from a Chinese pastry box. Other compartmentalised sorting containers you can use include pill boxes, paint palettes and snack serving trays.
I taped illustrations of the acorn and pumpkin pasta to each compartment to help with the visual discrimination.
This is a self-correcting activity, which is great for children to independently learn organisation of like and different objects.
Sorting activities allows children to group numbers and sets and understand numerical concepts better. If your child enjoys sorting, these are everyday materials you can utilise for sorting by size and sorting by color.
13. Paper Bowl Pumpkin Bag Craft
This paper bowl pumpkin bag craft is perfect for trick or treat, to store candies.
Children would enjoy the bag decoration process. Provide lots of art supplies to encourage open-ended art expression.
For the paper bowls to function as a bag, glue them together. You could make an opening to work like a clasp, or cut Jack O Lantern shapes in the bag that candies can fit through.
Finally, punch holes on both sides of the bag and thread a piece of string or ribbon through, adjusting it to your child's arm length to make a shoulder bag.
All ready for trick or treat!
14. Halloween Cookie Making
This is a hands-on activity for children to creatively decorate cookies in the design of anything that reminds them of Halloween, from pumpkins to ghouls to witches.
The cookie recipe I used is the same for almond cookies in an earlier post about Montessori toddlers in the kitchen, just that in place of liquids, I used naturally derived food coloring to color the cookie dough.
Green comes from spinach puree, pale pink from strawberry puree, brown from cocoa powder and pale orange from carrot puree.
As with all other kitchen activities, ensure towels and dust pans are accessible for children to initiate clean-up.
I really like the use of blanched almond flour in this cookie dough because it doesn't carry salmonella risk unlike cookie dough recipes using raw eggs. This means this cookie decoration activity can be suitable for a wide age group involving younger children who are still mouthing objects and good for a playdate.
Note: Check the kneadablity of the cookie dough before providing to your child (too soft and it gets onto surfaces everywhere, too hard and it crumbles too easily to be manipulated). It should be malleable, much like the texture of freshly made play dough.
15. Turkey Color Sorting
This is a turkey paper plate craft with upcycled bottle caps to emphasize their plumage -- the spread-out, fan-like tail feathers.
This activity invites toddlers to match pom pom balls to the corresponding colored bottle cap, a great way to practise visual discrimination.
I used red to emphasize the turkey's defining feature - the "snoods", otherwise known as the red fleshy thing hanging off turkeys' beaks.
As each pom pom ball is placed into a bottle cap, encourage your toddler to count. This teaches one-to-one correspondence, an advanced math skill that allows children to assign numbers to objects, beyond rote counting.
Particularly for younger toddlers, the transfer of pom pom balls helps with pincer grip practice.
16. Turkey Dried Leaf Craft
This activity creatively uses fallen leaves from shedding trees to design turkeys' rich plumage. You could plan this activity after a nature stroll, during which you could encourage your toddler to collect fallen leaves of varying colors for this craft.
Fresh leaves are best to work with as they don't crumble easily in little hands and can be more easily taped onto the back of a TP roll.
These turkey crafts make great thanksgiving decoration around the house.
17. Gratitude Visual Journey
Montessori education values gratitude and grace and encourages children to practise that daily. It is believed that nurturing a grateful deposition in children from young would grow them into sensitive and empathetic individuals who take care of themselves, people around them, and the earth we live on.
Living Montessori Now has a comprehensive list of Montessori-aligned gratitude activities.
To kickstart this gratitude activity, I read "Happy" by Nicola Edwards, which talks about the appreciation for our outside world.
After the book reading, my toddler and I sketched out "things we're grateful for" in a daily visual journal. I intend to practise this as part of our daily routine. The idea for a daily visual journal comes from Chalk Academy.
Together, we reflected on our everyday joys -- happiness from having wholesome food to eat, a well-stocked playroom, books on rotation to read and most of all, a safe home. This is especially poignant as we spend all our time indoors for the past several days, avoiding the air pollution from the West Coast 'climate' fires. :(
It is a timely reminder for myself too -- that being happy is a choice, and one of the ways to be happy is to count your blessings and appreciate what you have.
I hope your child enjoys these fun and tactile fall-themed activities! If you're affected by the West Coast fires, here's sending you strength, love and hope to tough through this period.
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.