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Autumn investigators

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By Caroline Petherbridge

Keep your eyes peeled for those tell-tale signs of autumn with these great ideas for an outdoor exploration.

For nature-lovers across the country, autumn has to be the most exciting time of the year. There is lots to discover and so much happening in our gardens, woods, hedges and verges that nature walks are most definitely the name of the game. So, why not encourage your class to become autumn investigators? Get out of the classroom and start looking for signs that autumn has finally arrived – and if it has, then it’s time for an autumn celebration!

1. Fruits and berries

Start your investigation by carrying out some research in the classroom before you venture outside. A nature walk will be much more meaningful to the children if they have some idea of what they are looking for before they begin. Use online activity sheet 1: Autumn investigation 1 below as your starting point. On the activity sheet are the names of ten trees and bushes that grow some of the most interesting fruits and berries at this time of year. Research these trees and bushes, finding pictures of the fruits and berries, before you set out. You can find pictures by typing the name of the fruit or berry into image search engines on the internet. Print off and attach any pictures the children find into the spaces provided on the activity sheet. Let the children take their completed guides on the nature trail to help them identify the signs of autumn (see activity 3). (Before you go, remind the children that, however appetising some of the berries may look, they must not eat any of them. Some berries can be poisonous to eat and even blackberries should be thoroughly washed before being eaten.)

2. Seasonal bags

Invite the children to make a fun autumn collecting bag to carry the leaves, seeds, fruits and berries that they find during their autumn trail. Ask the children to bring in paper carrier bags, or provide enough for the class, and invite them to decorate the bags with an autumn design (covering any logos already on the bag). Using foam leaf stamps, or vegetables to print, let the children print red leaves on to yellow paper, orange leaves on to green paper, brown leaves on to red paper, and so on.

Once dry, ask the children to cut out their leaves, leaving a centimetre gap around the edge of each leaf. Next, they should arrange them on black card in an attractive style and stick down. The contrast of the black card with the vibrant autumn colours makes a bright design. Help the children to staple the corners of their leaf designs to their paper bag.

3. Autumn trail

Now you can begin your nature trail. Obviously your destination depends largely on the location of your school, but do remember that autumn goodies can be found in all sorts of places – not just woods and forests. You can look in parks, gardens, on grass verges and on supposed wasteland, too. As you conduct the nature walk, encourage the children to collect just one of each item that they find, otherwise you may find some children coming back with just a bag full of conkers! Use online activity sheet 1: Autumn investigation 1 to help focus children’s work and encourage them to tick off any fruit, berries or seeds that they find.

4. Autumn clues

Back in the classroom, discuss what the class has found. Ask the children to decide whether autumn has arrived and why they think this. Look at the colour of the leaves gathered. Invite the children to try and chart the progress of a leaf turning from green to yellow, to orange, to red, to brown. Look at any fruits collected, such as conkers. Are the conkers still encased in green, spiky cases or have they ripened and fallen to the ground? Are any blackberries green and hard, or have they turned black and squishy?

These discussions will help the children decide on the outcome of their investigation to see if autumn has arrived. Ask the children to think about their collections and record their findings on online activity sheet 2: Autumn investigation 2. For example, looking at the berries, seeds, fruits and nuts they have found, which do they think might be eaten by birds and small animals? Encourage them to use books to investigate anything that was not on their original investigation sheet.

5. Celebration time!

If your class concludes that autumn has definitely arrived, then it’s time for a celebration! Use the collections of autumn goodies to make decorations for the classroom. If you have time, press some of the coloured leaves between a few sheets of paper and place under a pile of books for approximately two weeks. Alternatively, leaves could be used fresh but be aware that they will grow brittle and be harder for the children to manipulate. Paint the leaves with poster paint to make them seem even more vibrant, adding PVA mixed with a little water and glitter for a bit of extra sparkle. To make simple leaf hanging decorations, thread a few beads on to a small, thin piece of elastic, string or jewellery-making wire. Make a small hole in a leaf, just below the stem, and thread the elastic through the leaf. Tie the elastic together, ensuring the beads fall to the front of the leaf, before hanging it from some bare twigs or branches.

Let the children make autumn garlands by threading leaves on to a longer piece of elastic, then beads, then fruits, then beads, and so on (see image above). Help the children make the small holes in the stems of the fruits and seeds. String the finished garlands around the classroom – the perfect setting for a celebration of autumn.