Founder of @inspiremyplay, Early Years teacher for 11 years and mummy to three gorgeous girls. I'm passionate about about the benefits of play in early childhood.
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Here are 25 of the best autumn activities for kids. Autumn is upon us, and with it comes the rustling leaves, the cozy sweaters, and the perfect time to dive into autumn-themed sensory and creative play for our little ones. It is such a beautiful time of year and there are so many ways to enjoy the gorgeous colours and textures of the season, whilst creating inviting learning opportunities for little ones in their early years.
Whether you’re planning an autumn/fall theme at a preschool or kindergarten or you simply want to have some creative fun at home with your child, we’ve got loads of low-cost craft activities, small world play, creative and sensory play activities using natural resources, perfect for toddlers and preschoolers.
Benefits of Autumn-Themed Sensory Play
Autumn provides the perfect opportunity to teach our kids about seasonal change. Sensory play lets them see the changes up close as they watch leaves change from green to shades of gold and red, feel the different textures of natural materials and listen to the sounds they make.
- Develop fine motor control: Crunchy leaves, smooth acorns, squishy pumpkins - Autumn provides so many different textures to explore! Little fingers get to discover and differentiate between them. Picking up the leaves, sticking them down in the correct place, threading beads or using tools like scissors, all require the use of tiny muscles in the hands and fingers. The more use these muscles get, the more fine motor skills are developed.
- Whether its during autumn, or at any other time in the year, open-ended sensory play allows children to express their creativity and imagination.
We go into some more depth about the wider benefits of sensory play here.
If you’d like to find out how you can start your sensory play journey today you can download our free Beginner’s Guide to Sensory Play ebook:
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Autumn/Fall Activity Ideas for Kids
Autumn/Fall Nature Brushes and Painting
This was some fun process art that uses up all those autumn treasures that kids like to collect! To make the nature brushes I attached the nature bits to the top of sticks using some elastic bands. We also used some autumn objects to print with and roll around the paper. Lots of lovely exploration and messy fun!
Autumn/Fall Coloured Rainbow Rice
Coloured rice is great fun to scoop and pour! Put a bed sheet under the tray or table to catch the bits and add scoops and bowls! To give your rice play an autumn/ fall makeover all you need to do is add a little bit of the complementary colour when colouring it. Watch our video as a guide.
- Red and green.
- Orange and blue.
- Yellow and purple.
I used food colouring to colour the rice here and used my most concentrated type for the dominant colour and a weaker type to add the complement. You can get the same effect by just adding less of the complement. To help disperse the colour over the rice add a squirt of hand sanitiser (not a taste safe option) or a tablespoon of vinegar (taste safe).
Scoop and Fill Autumn Leaves
Now that you’ve added some complementary colours to your rice to give it that autumn feel, you can use it to fill autumn leaves made from toilet rolls. Rice makes a great sensory base and is always a winner alongside containers and scoops.
To make the leaves I cut a toilet roll into strips and pinched one side to form a leaf shape. I then placed them around a branch that we picked up on a walk. I like that this activity is easy to repeat. Just remove the leaves and branch and pour the rice back into a bowl before starting again.
Window Leaf Printing
Leaf printing is such a classic activity and easily accessible for different ages. We also love doing this on paper but we thought we’d switch it up by doing a bit of a collaborative effort on the window. We used paint sticks for this- they’re a low mess alternative to painting and work really well on glass or a mirror. They worked especially well for leaf printing!
For anyone wondering...it comes off easily with a bit of glass cleaner.
Leaf printing works best when the leaves are fresh. Paint on the side with the veins before printing. Then peel off carefully. The paint sticks are by the brand Little Brian.
Nature-Based Fine Motor Activities for Autumn/Fall
Autumn brings a whole host of nature-based play opportunities! Here are 5 simple activities you can do to work on those all important fine-motor skills.
1 - Wrapping pinecones in yarn/wool. This is a great work out for little hands. For older kiddies you could challenge them to try weaving around their pinecone.
2 - Leaf kebabs. Grab a stick and some leaves to thread onto the stick. If your little one is struggling you can make some pre-cut holes-it’s still a great hand-eye coordination challenge to thread them on.
3 - Berry transfer. Use tweezers to transfer the berries. You could float them in water instead and use a spoon/scoop.
4 - Leaf snipping. This is an easy way to practice scissor skills. If your child is new to scissors you can help them by drawing a smiley face on their thumb. This encourages them to keep their thumb facing upwards at all times so that they can see the smiley face.
5 - Hole punching leaves. Use craft punches or a hole punch. This builds hand strength. You can use this natural confetti afterwards for making pictures.
Shadow Leaf Drawing
This is great fun and perfect for the September sun. I set this up by pegging leaves on some string hung between two chairs. Underneath I rolled out a big piece of paper and we traced around the shadows created by the leaves. This is a great fine motor challenge and good for concentration and observational skills, as well as being a great conversation starter to talk about shadows. Mine enjoyed colouring them afterwards and adding details to their leaves.
Check out our blog post to find out more details.
Autumn Fairy Stick Puppets
There’s so many gorgeous coloured leaves around at autumn so it’s a perfect time to make these nature stick puppets. We made spring versions of these too and they were also a hit with my kiddies!
The girls used PVA (school glue) to glue on leaves and other nature bits that we found on a walk and then we mounted them to a stick with a bit of tape so they could play with them once dry.
You can download the free templates for these fairies via our printables page here.
Autumn Loose Parts Nature Play
All you need is a little imagination, some loose parts and a PlayTRAY is handy too! Nature provides the very best resources for play so why not set up something similar and see where their imaginations take them?
I love sitting back and watching my littlest play. There was no hidden agenda, no planned outcome and she had the most wonderful time just playing her way.
Leaf Colour Search
It’s so easy to prepare these boards and once you have the cardboard bases you can swap the contact paper (sticky-back plastic) over as much as needed.
We used paint sticks for speedy colouring of the cardboard. They’re also easy to blend together so we could make some extra autumnal colours.
Such fun for a sunny afternoon walk!
Have you tried q-tips/ cotton buds as an alternative to a paint brush? They’re great for developing fine motor skills and the dotty effect offers a new and interesting way to paint.
It worked really well for this Autumn/ fall tree. We glued down a few sticks first and then dotted around them to create the leaves.
If you have a PlayTRAY this activity is a great one for our triangle storage inserts. These are made from super soft silicone, are perfect for organising little bits or using as a paint pallet with washable paints.
Such a beautifully simple idea for fall / autumn from @lovebloomlearn on instagram.
One of the main reasons I first fell in love with sensory play was how it appealed to all three of my kids despite their differing ages. I love that this involved both baby & toddler, just with an added challenge for the older sibling of transferring the leaves from the PlayTRAY to another bowl.
This is another simple activity that’s great for working on fine motor skills (plus it makes a cute little pumpkin at the same time!).
With this one we started easy and gradually added more challenge. First up was a pasta pumpkin. As the holes are quite big this is a good place to begin if you’re just starting out. I have a bag of pasta that I’ve coloured with paint for activities like this and it lasts for ages.
We then moved on to chunky beads that had a decent sized hole. As she was fine with these we also made a pumpkin using little beads too, which was definitely more of a challenge.
These are all threaded onto orange pipe cleaners. As well as helping form the pumpkin shape, pipe cleaners are generally easier for little ones to handle as they are more rigid than string. So if you have a little one struggling with threading onto string do try a pipe cleaner instead.
To make the pumpkin I twisted the two ends of the pipe cleaner together and fastened a mini peg onto them with a bit of curling ribbon.
We love a sticky contact paper craft and especially love this mixed media pumpkin version! After cutting out out the pumpkin I covered it in contact paper (sticky-back plastic) with the sticky side facing up. We used lentils, popcorn kernels, leaves in different shades and tissue paper to decorate it. We’re pretty in love with the results.
Autumn/Fall Egg Box Hunt
Next time you’re going for a walk grab an egg box and print out this scavenger hunt to take with you! My girls loved finding these autumn treasures to match to each picture and the egg box is super handy for keeping them safe! You can download this for free via our printables page.
Pumpkin Spice Oobleck
I just love the smell of pumpkin spice at this time of year but have you ever tried adding it to oobleck?! If you can’t get hold of pumpkin spice (not always easy in the U.K.) you can make your own by combining ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and all spice. Watch our video to find out how to do it step by step.
Autumn/Fall Leaf Pictures
We used a white acrylic paint pen to draw our leaf designs but paint sticks or a white crayon also work well. If your little ones might struggle to draw their own leaves you could always put some leaf outlines underneath the kitchen towel to trace!
Autumn/Fall Loose Parts Faces
We had such fun with this! I filled the PlayTRAY with loose parts- a mixture of natural autumn items and other things in autumnal shades. I provided little miss with some blank face outlines and she had a great time arranging the items to make faces. This activity is great for creativity and also develops their fine motor skills as they carefully place things in position.
This is a great way to use up those endless leaves the kids like to pick up! Leaf art works best on fresh leaves, before they become too brittle. We used paint sticks to decorate some and acrylic paint pens to add details. You can preserve leaves pretty well using a laminator but if you want to do this just stick to acrylic paint pens as they hold up best.
If you’ve never tried it you need to! Such a simple activity but great for their imaginations! Once stuck down, as long as the leaves aren’t too thick, you can pop it through a laminator and it will preserve the picture to enjoy for longer.
Black Glue Resist Art
Did you know you can make your own black glue with a few drops of food colouring or paint in regular PVA/school glue? We love the effect of black glue art and it’s great for helping little ones practice keeping in the lines. We were coming to the end of one of our glue bottles so it was the perfect time to do this and I love the way the colourful leaves pop against the black glue!
Leaf Identification Pebbles
These leaf pebbles are a handy resource to identify the many leaves we pick up on walks! They’re also lots of fun to make! Here’s how to make some yourself. What You Will Need:
- Large pebbles
- Small leaves
- Mod Podge
- Flower press or microwave
1 - The first step is to press the leaves. This can be done in a flower press or for a shortcut method use a microwave!
2 - To use a microwave put the leaves between two pieces of kitchen towel and then between two dinner plates, with a cup of water in the microwave too and heat for 20-30 seconds. The cup of water is really important to ensure the leaves don’t catch fire so don’t forget it!
3 - Cover the pebbles with a layer of Mod Podge and then stick the leaves to them.
4 - Cover the leaf and pebble with a second layer of Mod Podge paying special attention to the corners of the leaf to make sure they are stuck down well. An adult might need to do this bit.
5 - Once everything is dry you can write the name of the leaf on the back of the pebble using a permanent marker or acrylic paint pen.
Autumn Leaf Sewing
Use a hole punch around the edge of these printable autumn leaves to create holes. Take some wool/yarn and thread it through the holes. This is a simple activity to help develop fine motor skills. You can download the printable using the link below.
Pumpkin Spice Cloud Dough
This smelt amazing thanks to all the lovely spices we added to our regular cloud dough recipe!
Pumpkin pie spice seems quite hard to get hold of in the UK so we made our own. I don’t think getting the ratios exact are so important in this scenario but we used:
• 2 tbsp cinnamon
• 2 tsp ginger
• 1 tsp ground cloves
• 1 tsp ground allspice
• 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
We added that to our usual cloud dough recipe (4 cups flour & 1/2 cup of vegetable oil) . Cloud dough is powdery but thanks to the oil you can also mould it. Mine love it, usually for some cooking/ baking pretend play. It’s guaranteed to keep them all busy and it keeps really well in the PlayTRAY for another day. If you think your little one might like a cheeky taste, you can bake the flour in the oven first for 10 mins at 350F/180C to kill any bacteria that there may be.
You can download a recipe card for this activity for free from our printables page.
Pumpkin Fairy House
A little pumpkin fairy house complete with table and chairs! We used twigs to make the windows and it was so easy to do (way easier than trying to carve them!).
We put this together for a little small world play with their fairies. I made these toadstools a few years back by painting pebbles and sticking them to a piece of air dry clay. All the other small world resources are listed in our Amazon storefront.
Autumn/Fall Colour Mixing
This is so simple to set up using three pots of water coloured with food colouring and some droppers (pipettes). We used a white ice cube tray to mix our colours, which helped the colours to show up so well.
I would start by letting your little one have a good explore first before moving on to mixing colours to match the autumn objects.
We had lots of brilliant conversation about colour mixing and what colours we needed to add to get closer to matching the colour of the object.
This activity requires a good deal of precision to manipulate the droppers and to not add too much at a time, so it’s a great one for fine-motor skills too.
Coffee Filter Autumn Leaves
This is a very simple craft but such a lovely outcome!
To make these leaves you will need coffee filters and some water coloured with food colouring. I set out yellow, red and green water and we used droppers to cover the filters. This is such a fun one for experimenting with colour mixing and we ended up with a beautiful array of coffee filters, each one slightly unique.
Once the filters were dry, I cut out the leaves and we strung them up using fishing wire. These would also look great hanging from a piece of wood or simply stuck onto a window.
Autumn/Fall Play Dough Tray
I think a play dough tray will always be my favourite activity to set up. And with the PlayTRAY I now keep it out to return to over several days so all my effort making it isn’t wasted!
Here’s some inspiration for an Autumn/ fall tray- a mixture of natural resources and other things we’ve accumulated over the years. If you’re new to small world and sensory play and are looking to build up your resources, do check out my small world resources post.
To make the play dough we used our regular recipe:
1.5 cups of flour
1/2 cup of salt
2 tbsp of cream of tartar
2 tbsp of coconut oil
1 cup of boiling water.
Mix the dry ingredients together then add the coconut oil and boiling water with food colouring mixed in. Keep mixing until it comes together as a ball and then remove it from the bowl and knead it really well on a worktop. Too sticky? Add a little more flour. If it’s too dry and a splash more water. You can find out more about our play dough recipe in our post here.
Autumn/Fall Word Leaves
To prepare for this activity use a paint pen to write words containing the sounds your child is currently learning onto large leaves. Then write the individual sounds onto little leaves.
Encourage your child to read the words and then collect the little leaves to build up the word to match. This activity was so quick to set up, but was such a great way to practice lots of important phonic skills.
Autumn/Fall Leaf Count
This was a simple counting activity we did adding the correct number of autumn leaves to the trees. I grabbed some twigs from the garden, laid out the numbers and I encouraged my 4 year old to add the loose parts to match the number shown.
I find our Grapat Mandala pieces get used for a great many things (the beauty of open-ended toys) but they are especially useful for developing mathematical concepts like sorting, counting and patterns.
Autumn/Fall Letter Hunt
A quick and easy set up I used to practice matching lowercase letters to capitals. I used an out of date packet of lentils in the base of the PlayTRAY, which was perfect for hiding our letters in! I then used a whiteboard pen to write capital letters in each of the PlayTRAY compartments for my 4 year old to sort the matching letters into.