Autumn is the perfect season for sensory-based activities. From colorful leaves crunching underfoot to shiny red apples and gooey pumpkin guts, it's total wonderland. It also provides the perfect opportunity to celebrate the magic of changing seasons and the art and science of nature with your child. We've compiled a list of great nature-related, sensory integration activities to sprinkle throughout your September and October.
Make edible pumpkin pie clay or moon sand
Though this doesn't involve pulling directly from nature, pumpkin pie clay is a great way to celebrate pumpkin (and baking!) season. Grab some cans of the tried and true Libby's Pumpkin and go to town. This two-ingredient pumpkin play dough is the simplest recipe, but this pumpkin moon sand might be more interesting to the easily-bored crowd. Both these recipes are edible and all-natural, though we don't suggest eating them.
An oldie but goodie, this activity is a great way to discuss the plant life cycle, and perfect excuse to make a trip to the orchard for a number of apple varieties (and maybe a cider donut or two). Once you've lugged your pecks home (being sure to keep Figi separate from Jonathan), sort out your apple types and slice one of each in half. Save one half for taste-testing and another for comparing seed patterns. Pull out your red, green and yellow paint and use the not-for-consumption halves as stamps. Apple stamps make great apple paintings, of course, but can also double as pumpkins when used with orange paint. Embelish paintings with glued-on apple seeds or strips of brown paper woven into a bushel basket.
Though fall recipes are definitely an unsurprising addition to a fall activity list, we've included them nonetheless. Cooking helps your child feel helpful and—once everyone is praising his creation—proud. Applesauce is a great, easy recipe, and provides an fun smashing and mashing opportunity. This is a good one for slightly older children, as it does involve peeling and coring apples and using a stove. Check out this simple recipe.
Another easy recipe for harvest season is natural popcorn. You can find popable ears (called "flint corn" or "Indian corn") at most pumpkin patches, orchards and fall markets, or you can easily order them online from retailers like Sur la Table or even Amazon. All you need to do is stick the cob in a paper bag in the microwave and wait for the action, but if you're hesitant, this video features Martha Stewart walking us through the process. Kids may not love the plain flavor as opposed to buttery microwave popcorn, but they will still find popping from the cob exciting.
Take a brisk afternoon walk in a forest preserve to observe wildlife and the changing fall colors. Challenge your child to find beautiful leaves of all different colors, and bring along a bag to collect them in. Just be sure not to pull leaves off branches. Once home, use the leaves and non-toxic glue or tape to create beautiful, multicolored fall masks and crowns. You child will love being declared the Autumn King or Queen!
Save a couple striking leaves to act as inspiration in this next craft. Preparation involves buying some clear contact paper at your local office or craft store, and cutting up pieces of red, orange, yellow and green tissue paper. Your child can stick pieces of tissue paper to the sticky side of contact paper in a leaf shape. Once done, you can stick another side of the contact paper over your child's creation and help them cut out the leaf shape. Find a sunny window to hang them in and enjoy the sunlight streaming through the colorful leaves.
Fill a large, shallow bin with popcorn kernels (you can find large jars at many grocery stores or online, and many pet supply stores carry bags of cracked corn), and add as many fall-related items as you can find. We suggest dried fallen leaves, pine cones, pumpkin seeds, small gourds, hay, acorns and fall flowers like chrysanthemums.
Pay a visit to the pumpkin patch and pick out the goofiest, weirdest specimens you can find. (This is also a great place to find corn kernels, popcorn cobs and pumpkin seeds for other activities). Bring them home and use paint, googly eyes, any other craft supplies you own and even found items from your backyard to decorate a family of gourds who will carry you through the fall season.