This week, while I was tidying our some folders of old posters, I found a set of posters depicting the seasons. They were published by Child Education many years ago and I’m sure they were on the walls of classsrooms up and down the country. Every October I would get out the poster showing autumn and we would discuss it class. What could we see in the sky? What was the squirrel doing? Why was the farmer busy in the fields? Then we would write about what happens in autumn.
I smiled to myself as I pictured all those children learning about how the seasons change while sitting in a warm classroom. Those days, thankfully, are long gone! The challenge when you are running Forest School or outdoor learning sessions for children aged 3-11 years is how do you ensure they all experience the wonders of autumn without repeating activities? In this blog we explore some of the ways we have met this challenge over the years.
Our youngest children have sorted leaves by shape and colour (not as easy as it sounds!) and enjoyed making leaf crowns. There is always great excitement at the end of the day as they balance their crowns on their head and set off to show their parents!
The lists of activities for 5-7 year olds (Key Stage 1) is endless! During our Woodland Sprites sessions we have enjoyed many of the activities from Nature Detectives and in particular their excellent ‘Playing Through the Seasons ~ Autumn’ booklet. We have used leaves to make sleeping beds for mice, houses for fairies, elfs, hedgehogs and even an escaped wallaby called Walter!
Autumn Scavenger Hunts always seem to capture the children’s imaginations, especially if they also have a small treasure chest or collecting bag for their autumn treasures. Scavenger hunts also provide a great way for the children to start to learn how to recognise trees, leaves, fruits and seeds.
In a recent Outdoor Education session, during a visit to Knavesmire Woods, the children threaded their favourite leaves onto a length of willow and then weaved the willow into a loop. During the free play session that followed this became a bunch of keys and all sorts of imaginative play ensued. As often happens in a school setting ideas transfer from the classroom to outdoors and vice a versa. A creative writing session explored ‘who found the keys and what did they open?’ We learnt there were keys to fairy castles, a trolls den and a magic treasure chest hidden in our woods. Next Forest School session the children tried to recreate the bunch of keys but without the willow, now just which sticks in the woods will bend into a circle!
When it comes to 7-11 year olds (Key Stage 2), you have to be creative with your ideas! Making leaf jewellery, ranging from necklaces to bracelets is a fun activity. Once our oldest children have asked for our supply of bin bags and designed and made a range of dresses and jewellery using natural materials. The session ended with a woodland fashion show.
Art work is always popular with the older children and this year they have made some wonderful flowers with leaves and natural materials. As the activity coincided with Remembrance Day many of the children used the opportunity to design and make a piece of artwork to mark Armistice Day. Of course the work of Andy Goldsworthy provides an excellent stimulus for such activities.
Mathematical mobiles allow us to merge a Forest School and classroom activity. The children choose a stick, learn to tie a knot and then tie colourful wool onto their stick. Now for the mathematical challenge – can you use natural materials to make a number bond? This activity can also be used to demonstrate, for example, repeating patterns, symmetry, length.
The wonder of working outdoors is that each season begins new challenges and opportunities. As autumn draws to a close the poem reminds us
“All the leaves are falling down
Orange, green, red, and brown.
If you listen, you’ll hear them say,
“Wintertime is on it’s way.”