Autumn treats

photography of child pushing the wagon
Photo by Jennifer Murray on

Autumn has well and truly arrived, bringing with it lots of lovely loose materials for children to play and create with.  Here are some great ideas for activities and games you can play with the children.   The best way to start is to get outside and collect the resources together, as that is an adventure in itself!

If your outside area is more concrete jungle than a green one, why don’t you bring large bags with you to collect leaves and bring them back to your setting?  I have done this in the past, much to the delight of the children.  It kept them engaged and entertained for hours and provided a starting point for many activities and interests.

Key tip:  Let children play with the leaves for as long as they like, until the initial excitement has worn off,  before trying to introduce any adult led activities. Of course they are likely to come up with some great ideas themselves, which you can then follow.  

Rather than splashing through puddles, let children wade through the leaves, bury one another and throw them in the air.  This enables them to use their senses to describe how the leaves look, feel, smell and sound.  Skilful practitioners will often comment on the play enabling children to hear new vocabulary in a meaningful context. They will also point out what is happening to the leaves, providing children with phrases to identify their movements such as ‘dancing in the wind’.  Even better if the children are encouraged to act this out themselves as linking whole body movements to vocabulary aids memory.

‘Vocabulary size relates to academic success and learning in early years is crucial for increasing children’s vocabulary.‘  This quote was taken from a slide at one of the recent Ofsted Big Conversation meetings. Vocabulary also features prominently in the proposed revision of the early learning goals however, in order for this to be meaningful to young children it needs, where ever possible, to be delivered through first hand experiences, if they are use new vocabulary independently and in an imaginative way.

A graphic organiser is a simple way to support vocabulary development by linking it to the senses.  Adjectives related to a particular object can be recorded, used for reference and added to over time.  Scribed by adults they enable children to focus on language rather than writing and are great to use as a vocabulary bank prior to creating poetry.

Using Leaves for Literacy

Leaf poem – This has a very simple structure as each line of the poem starts with an adjective, or two, followed by the word, leaves.  The last sentence can describe what is happening and where and can be created by you or the children, dependent on their age and stage of development.

Beautiful leaves

Colourful leaves,

Red, yellow and orange leaves,

Floating in the sky


The Leaf Man by Louis Ehlert has beautiful illustrations created by a collage of leaves. This can be used as a stimulus for either a re-tell of the story or the basis for creative storytelling or writing.  Children can create their own natural collages to display alongside their annotated comments or written work.

Find the sound game

This requires a little prep beforehand as you will need to write one letter on each leaf using a marker pen.  Create a set of letters on the leaves (e.g. s,a,t,n,i,p – one letter on each leaf) and create as many sets as you need, dependent on the size of the group.  Throw all the leaves up in the air for children to catch, then call out their sound.

This simple activity has a number of variations, such as the following:

Something beginning with …. children not only have to say the sound but also name something beginning with it. You could lay out some resources on the floor, as a visual clue, to support any children who might find this difficult.

Long sound / short sound

Children have to identify whether their letter makes a long sound or short sound. Place two cones, or sticks, at opposite ends of the area in which you are working. Decide with the children, which end will be for long sounds and which will be for short.  Throw the leaves up in the air, pick one up and call out the sound.  Children have to listen and decide whether it’s a long or short sound, then run the to correct end.

You can also say words beginning with the sound, such as s…sausages, snake, or sea to support those who are unable to hear initial sounds.  Once children are familiar with the rules you can then throw all the letters in the air.  Children have to choose a letter and decide for themselves whether it’s a long or short sound before running to the correct area. This is a great game to play during colder weather as children keep warm by running around.

Make a word

Using a complete set of letter leaves, children can make cv or cvc words with them, either individually or in pairs.

Make a letter 

Provide the children with some resources (gathered with them beforehand) such as small stones, conkers, leaves, feathers etc. Children have to make the letter they  have on their leaf with the loose materials.   Don’t forget to reinforce the starting point and direction of each letter. Letters can be created on the ground or placed onto double sided tape for a more permanent picture.  Photos taken of these make beautiful alphabet charts when printed and displayed inside.  Photos can be displayed outside but would need double laminating with a very wide margin.

Making maths with leaves



Look what you can do when using a packet of wooden skewers with leaves.

Sorting by size – skewering leaves from large to small or small to large.

Sorting by colour – skewering leaves from light to dark or vice versa. You can also use paint charts to support this.

Repeating patterns – leaves offer so many ways in which to do this, just look at the different ways in the photo above!  I particularly like the addition of a few berries!  The same objective but so open ended, allowing children lots of choice.

Sorting by number – Sorting leaves by the number of lobes or leaflets. Single leaves have one leaf but have various numbers of pointed or curved lobes.  Compound leaves, such as the horse chestnut has between 5 and 7 separate leaflets.  Children can sort the leaves into piles by counting how many lobes or leaflets there are.  A simple leaf reference chart can be found here.

Creative activities

Leaf bashing – Hapa Zome – The Japanese art of pounding leaves allows for the release of natural dyes onto fabric.  You will need hammers and/or mallets, some pieces of cotton material or some absorbent paper or card.    Arrange the leaves as required, cover with a spare piece of cloth or paper and pound.  Not only would these make beautiful, and very individual Christmas cards, but provides for a good physical workout and are great for developing upper arm strength. Ferns make for really good prints and flower petals provide some really great colours.

There is a great tutorial on how to make a Hapa Zome book mark here along with some great tips for using tape, ideal for helping younger children hold the leaves in place when pounding.

This activity would be great for writing instructions as there aren’t too many steps.  Photos of the process, along with their instructions would make for a simple and very effective display.

Leaf confetti – take a variety of hole punches and some small containers outside and let the children hole punch away.  Before long they will have a container full of confetti of different shapes and sizes.  Waxy leaves and newly fallen leaves are easier to punch and hold their shape better than those that are beginning to dry out.  You could include the children in the evaluation process too by asking them their thoughts on the best leaves for this task. The confetti can then be used in the creative area inside.

Transient artwork  – create pictures from leaves, and other natural resources.  Photos can be taken of the process and children’s comments can be scribed to make a beautiful display of this ephemeral art form.   You can add in a maths element to this by challenging children to create a picture using a specific number of loose materials which will help to reinforce counting.


These are just a few of the activities that you can do with leaves as this free resource is so full of possibilities.

There is a wealth of evidence available documenting the benefits of outdoor learning so, if you haven’t done so already,  start with a small group of children and see for yourself.  You will be amazed at the difference learning outside has on their levels of involvement and engagement.


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