Autumn Activities for Outdoor Learning

I love working in the forest throughout the year and seeing how it changes every week providing new adventures and discoveries for our children to experience.

By Becky Wilkinson · October 13, 2020

Autumn is possibly my favourite of the seasons, crisp leaves to stomp through, conkers to unwrap and the perfect weather for hot chocolate and smores around the fire. Try these activities for some autumn forest fun with your class!

See, Hear, Smell

Equipment – wood cookies or markers, pens

A great variation of hide and seek for developing oracy and listening skills as well as applications for lessons on habitats or minibeasts. Give each child a way of making a marker for themselves, this might be a tree cookie or stick to decorate or other small token. Can they decorate the marker to resemble them? The rest of the group closes their eyes while one person hides their marker somewhere in the setting. They return to the circle and the rest of the group have to guess where they are based on the description of what they can see, hear and smell from their marker’s position.

Mud Kitchen

Equipment – a tuff tray plus whatever you have to hand, pans, spoons, sieves, bowls. The only thing I don’t recommend is cups if you’re working with pre-schoolers!

A mud kitchen is always fun but might seem something to pack away in the autumn to avoid chapped hands and wet clothes as the children gravitate towards the mud.

Packing away the mud kitchen is a shame however when autumn presents so many new elements that can be added to it. When the temperature goes below 10C I stop putting the water out and instead present bowls of natural loose parts as an invitation to play. Conkers, blackberries, rosehips and windfall apples all make great autumn additions to your mud kitchen giving new sensory experiences and opportunities for language development.

Want to challenge older pre-schoolers? I’ll always remember the child who spent an entire morning cutting windfall apples with a blunt picnic knife on the tuff tray. Obviously an activity that needs appropriate risk assessment and supervision but a wonderful learning opportunity with a broad variety of mathematical language being used as he played.

A Little Bit of Winter

Equipment – wooden crate or pallet, book “A Little Bit of Winter” by Paul Stewart

The story is from the popular “Rabbit and Hedgehog” series and is a perfect way to link a story to a forest setting and develop language for describing the outdoors. Enjoy the story with your class then ask your children to build homes for hedgehogs to hibernate in in your forest. A great opportunity to link learning inside and outside the classroom with the children researching why hedgehogs need homes for winter and what characteristics they should have. Can they design and build a home using natural materials? Can they develop the story or write their own?

Natural Art

Equipment – none although a tuff tray can be a useful base

A great way to think about pattern, repetition, sequencing, texture and colour. Look at the work of artists such as Andy Goldsworthy for inspiration on some amazing natural art, or in this instance we were creating mandalas and reflecting on links between religion and nature. This activity works at any time of year but is a particularly good activity for autumn when you will have leaves of all shades available without having to pick anything.

Hunter Gatherers

Equipment – bowls

Autumn is the one time when I suspend our usual “no pick” policy and encourage the children to explore the harvest that grows in our forests. Many school grounds, footpaths or forests will have blackberries growing at the start of autumn. The need to ensure adequate washing of the berries and thorough handwashing may well mean that you do not eat what you pick at the moment but there are plenty of other ways to enjoy them. With younger classes I have had groups produce some wonderful art work when the children experiment with squashing and painting with the berries.

With older classes, an ID and foraging challenge can be a great way of thinking about the very tough lives that hunter gatherer tribes faced. One of the memories that has really stuck with me from my time with Teaching Trees is when on an icy November morning, I asked the enthusiastic class of Year 3 pupils in front of me where a hunter gatherer would have found food in this area. A sea of keen hands shot up and the child who spoke told me that they would have stood in a stream and speared a fish to eat. I then asked if any of them would have wanted to stand in the edge of the lake that happened to be behind me and to try and catch fish wearing the clothing available to a hunter gatherer. Realisation dawned as we discussed that standing in the water in that weather would have been deeply unpleasant and quite possibly led to hypothermia. With that thought in our minds, we set off around the woodland to see what nature could offer us to eat instead. A wonderful example of how outdoor learning can combine with knowledge gained in the classroom to give children a true depth of understanding.

Becky Wilkinson

Learning and Outreach Manager

Becky is the lead practitioner for Teaching Trees, delivering outdoor learning for schools across Staffordshire and Derbyshire as well as Practitioner Training across the Midlands and North of England.

We deliver accredited Outdoor Learning Training for Practitioners as part of the Cambium Network as well as bespoke packages for individual settings.