“How beautiful the leaves grow old. How full of light and colour are their last days.” ~ John Burroughs
Autumn is my favourite time of the year. I love wearing my hand-knit woollen sweaters. I love to notice the changing colours of the leaves. And I love to snuggle up under a warm blanket and read. It is always a joy to talk to children about this season, and ask them what they think of it, and how they know autumn is here. Usually they will say that they notice that it has gotten colder; that the leaves are different colours; that the leaves are falling off the trees. An art experience that I’m sure has become a tradition in many classrooms is to do leaf rubbings. All you need are paper, crayons and leaves. This activity allows children to collect leaves, to explore them closely and notice things like the veins, stalks and blades (great words for building their vocabulary!), and also to strengthen their fine motor skills as they grasp and manipulate the crayons. It is an easy activity to do, but it can be an opportunity to engage children in an inquiry about science and nature and ask questions about why leaves change colours, or read about the different kinds of leaves on trees! Art can provide a way for explaining something complex in a very simple and engaging way.
This year I wanted to add a new element to this experience and bring in the social-emotional element as well. To do this, I shared one of my favourite books with the children, The Pumpkin Blanket by Deborah Turney Zagwyn. This is a charming story about a little girl who lives on a farm, and who is very attached to her quilt, a gift she received through the magic of the Northern Lights. She is soon going to attend school and must learn to “let go” of her beloved blanket. In order to do this, she gives away one square of her blanket at a time, to protect the pumpkins in the field from being damaged by frost. Even though this is hard for her, she learns something important about caring for something, and about sharing. I introduced this reading experience by asking the children to share something about their own blankets. Children talked about the colour of their blanket, or any special details like unicorns. They talked about how soft their blanket feels. They talked about special feelings they had for their own blanket. It was really nice to find a way to help the children to make a personal connection to the book. We wrote down some of the things that children said and made their comments part of our art display.
I really enjoyed this experience because it accomplished a few things. It allowed us to enjoy a gentle science activity in a creative way, through looking at and touching the leaves, and creating our own representations of them. It allowed us to put a new spin on a classic fall activity, to make it a bit more interesting. We did the leaf rubbings on paper cut into the shape of pumpkins, did the rubbings using fall colours, and then affixed each pumpkin to squares of assorted autumn colours, to create our own special pumpkin blanket. And we personalized the experience by talking about our own blankets, which allowed us to feel empathy for the character in the story. The end result was a gorgeous classroom blanket which invited the children to admire each other’s art and a unique display of their work. This was a wonderful activity, one that I hope you might consider for your own classroom as part of an autumn celebration!
“I can smell autumn dancing in the breeze. The sweet chill of pumpkin and sweet sunburnt leaves.” ~ Unknown