Fall Foliage: Examples of Nature-Based Curriculum

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” -Albert Camus


Fall is a rewarding time for a nature-based curriculum. It’s easy to bring the outdoors inside and to mirror the season of festive colors. Provocations that center around what is happening in the natural spaces around us foster children’s connections to the natural world. We provide a number of invitations to write, draw, and collage with leaves! We taped leaves to the easel paper, along with a paint palette mirroring the Fall foliage.



We even taped fabric leaves to the tops of ballpoint pens.                                                                                                                                            L & F invent a simple game that involves movement, surprise and joy. It’s a quintessential reminder of the value of “loose parts“– open-ended materials that can be used for a myriad of purposes– inviting children’s ingenuity. This game is of their own making and they navigate it seamlessly. They graciously take turns. One child places all the heavy felt leaves on the outside of the sheet canopy. The other child goes inside the canopy and shakes it until each leaf drops to the ground. Lots of laughter ensues. They switch roles. The leaf placer becomes the shaker and vice versa. The leaves fall to the ground. More laughter. What a joyful way to deepen their connection and meet their need for movement! J collects golden leaf treasures from the play yard, runs over to the fairy shelf, then carefully places each one.


We collect leaves to adorn our snack and activity tables. Left: Banana ghost pops for snack. Right: Flubber and pumpkin-shaped cookie cutters.


This peek-a-boo name-game started weeks ago at circle. It continues to be a joyful way to connect. In this case L & W, were thrilled to find enormous leaves around the corner from the play yard and immediately hid behind them. 

This stunning leaf art installation was found at Lower Macleay Trailhead, Portland, OR, a couple of days after the Pittsburgh Synagogue massacre. What a lovely way to affirm a targeted community. It feels especially powerful to encounter, given that this is a hike our preschoolers do each year.  Photo courtesy of Sheila Hamilton.


Shalom Means Peace In Hebrew: Talking with Children in the Wake of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Tragedy

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” – Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor & activist

As an educator committed to justice, I continue to think about ways to combat confusion, misinformation, and hate and to pave the way for love, inclusion, and equity. I have the privilege of working with both adults and preschoolers, so I get to think of ways to share information with parents of preschoolers and to consider ways to share developmentally appropriate lessons with three to five year-olds.

Over the past week, a white gunman targeted and murdered two black people while they were grocery shopping in Kentucky. Another white gunman shot and killed eleven Jews while they were praying in their synagogue. We are painfully reminded that hatred is real and that unchecked hatred and white nationalism have dire consequences. I feel compelled to speak out and to teach toward change so I’m doing that in the little community I’m a part of. I started by writing a couple of emails to the families in our community. Within them, I included:

“I‘m in the process of figuring out the best ways to include a direct classroom response to the anti-semitic violence of this past weekend. I’m thinking about what is developmentally appropriate and ways to keep things positive. I hope to shine the light on the outpouring of love and support while naming the hurtful act. I don’t plan to share any details of the violence or say that people were killed. I hope to share a bit more on our blog by the end of this week. If or as you have any thoughts or questions, I’d welcome hearing them.”

As I consider how to best involve families of young children, I am reminded that while we want to shield children from the intensity of harsh things in the world, there is value in engaging directly with our children and emphasizing the actions that people continue to make for peace and justice.

Some children may be the direct targets of hatred or violence; while most children, if not all in our school community are cushioned from much of it. But most children– if not all– will at least pick up pieces of information from current events in the world around them. Young children may notice that their parents are upset, learn from older siblings, overhear a news report, or witness a conversation in the grocery store. They will likely hear something about the hurtful things in our broader community. When we engage directly with children, we can frame the conversation and influence how our young ones think and learn about challenging issues, and we can empower them to take action alongside the countless people who actively seek peace. And when we talk with children about scary or challenging circumstances, we give them the message that we are interested and willing to talk, paving the way for ongoing conversations.

I used this week’s family share to teach the word “shalom”– the Hebrew word for peace–and to share some ideas about what peace includes: “Being gentle, kind, friendly and loving to all people.” I named that we were going to sing a song, “Shalom/Peace,” at circle and wanted to be sure everyone knew what shalom and peace meant prior to our circle time.

At circle, I revisited what we know about peace and said: People all over the country– no matter where they live in the United States–in Portland, Oregon or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania– have been lighting candles and singing and sending peace to everyone. They are doing this for a really sad reason. Instead of pretending to scare people (like we’ve been playing this Halloween season), someone really scared and hurt people. They used their words and they used their body to scare and hurt people who are Jewish. These Jewish people were in their synagogue, praying, and welcoming a baby. Someone came in and scared and hurt them. While our class is learning that it is always important to be gentle, kind and loving, this person was confused and hurtful. They acted out of hate, instead of love. So thousands of people all over our country are saying “No”– It is wrong to hate and wrong to hurt people. And people all over the United States are lighting candles, singing songs about peace and letting the Jewish people who got scared or hurt know that we care about Jews and we care about everyone’s safety.

Then I lit a candle for peace and introduced our new Shalom/Peace song to spread more gentleness, kindness and love. When it was time to blow out the peace candle, a child suggested we all do it together. What a lovely joyful closing to our ritual!

Here’s to continuing to find ways to involve families in peace activism work. Preserving our shared humanity depends on it. 

Takeaways from Teaching Tolerance:

  • “To ignore such an act of violence is to accept it.”
  • We can teach our children “how hate takes hold” and empower them by providing “ways they can join us in fighting hate.”
  • If we don’t talk about “hate-filled moments,” we “normalize” them.
  • Our children need to hear messages of acceptance, love and pluralism in every arena of their lives.

To Learn More

5 Tips for Talking with Children About the Tree of Life Shooting – Anti-Defamation League

How To Talk To Children About Anti-Semitism – PJ Library “Research shows that one of the best ways that we can help prepare our children to cope with discrimination and intolerance is by being open about it. When we show our children that these topics, though tough, are not taboo, we let them know that they can always come to us with questions or thoughts about life’s scary situations.”

Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide – Southern Poverty Law Center


More Pumpkin Play!

“The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.” – unknown

An Accident Generates Enthusiasm

A child impulsively threw one of our mini pumpkins over the fence, cracking it down the middle. Honestly, I felt a little irritated because I had hoped the pumpkins would last for at least a couple of weeks of play and I had a particular idea about how that might go. But when a parent brought the seriously cracked pumpkin back to the play yard, it generated more interest. Another child enthusiastically split it open. That impressed a few children. “Wow,  B. broke it open!” The exposed pumpkin captured friends’ interest, as suddenly the seeds were visible. A trio was eager to scoop out seeds. “Yeah, we can get out the seeds and cook them!” So we brought some spoons and a bowl to the play yard and they went to work scooping. The involved children were thrilled and I was reminded of the important lesson of letting go of preconceived ideas of play and orderliness. 

Baking Projects


We welcomed in a child’s oma (grandma) to lead a thrilling cooking project– pumpkin pie pops! Oma Cynthia brought in prepared pie dough and pumpkin filling. Children used a pumpkin shaped cookie cutter to make the fronts and backs of the pops, then spoon out and spread pumpkin filling. They were totally engrossed topping each pop with cinnamon. The pumpkin pie aroma filled the classroom and hallways, and they were delicious to eat.

On another school day a parent brought ingredients for us to bake pumpkin muffins! The strategy of pre-measuring the ingredients makes the project a little easier to execute. Participating children took turns smelling, pouring and mixing the ingredients without the stress of constant monitoring of amounts.

We also had pumpkin bread with sunflower butter and “pumpkin” shaped mandarin oranges with celery “pumpkin” stems. This exciting presentation enticed children to go for the fruit option before even considering a serving of pumpkin bread.

Pumpkin Art


We offered multiple media options and lots of opportunities to dot, paint, cut, stamp, and even roll marbles through paint across pages with pumpkin outlines.



Fall Harvest Means Pumpkin Time!

Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul. It is what your ancestors, your old people gave you. Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.” – Winona LaDuke

Field Trips Provide Us:

  • A break in routine.
  • Time together in the natural world.
  • Expansive space to play and connect, free of the pull to curb children’s natural enthusiasm and need to move.
  • Opportunities to deepen connections within our school community.
  • Opportunities to learn about farms and forests in Portland.


Each Fall, we take a break from city-life to gather together on farmland, under expansive skies. Sauvie Island provides Portlanders with accessible waterways and farms to explore and enjoy. Harvesting pumpkins is one springboard to nourish children’s connection to the earth. 



Our time together on the farm mirrors our classroom time. We have circle, welcoming each child, and emphasize a few current curriculum focuses such as noticing our varying skin tones along with the range of fall leaf colors. Farmer Don made a game out of guessing the names of fruits and veggies; and he husked a corn–dramatically munching on it in front of his captive audience.


We trekked over pumpkin vines to pick out pie-making pumpkins and rode the tractor back to our picnic area. To honor the harvest, we shared snacks with a pumpkin, apple and seed focus. Yum!


Field trips make exciting memories for children, and allow them to form new connections and bonds with each other. It’s also a sweet time for parents, grandparents and siblings to join the fun. 



(This child was feeling irritable and didn’t want to be in the family photo I snapped of her parents and big brother. I was pleased to find a way to connect with her by showing her the photo I took).

Pumpkin Play Continues

Following our field trip, I brought about twenty miniature pumpkins back to HFP’s play yard as a reminder of our farm experience and the Fall harvest. We took turns hiding and finding and re-hiding and finding pumpkins. I took this video clip at the very end of an exuberant, collaborative class effort to gather all the hidden pumpkins in the play yard and to bring them to the top of the climber to “decorate” it.  


We’ll continue with a variety of pumpkin-related activities and will return to the farm in June to harvest strawberries.


Fall Curriculum Email to Families

Dear Families,
Head’s-up that we’ll share childhood memories from Fall/Autumn. I’ll invite you to recall what you liked to do, eat and play when you were a child during this season.
For many, Fall, Halloween, Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an ideal time to
  • Touch on what is spooky, unnerving and scary. 
  • Play with personas, costumes and disguises. 
  • Think about death, decay and regeneration, as the leaves fall to the ground and skeletons decorate houses.
  • Revere magical creatures such as bats and witches (and their skills & connections with the earth to bring healing).
I will add props in the classroom that lend themselves to children exploring and experimenting with these topics, including skeletons, skulls, spiders, bats for children to play with, make art out, and discuss.
You can anticipate upcoming Family Shares that centers on 
  • Fears and what we do to find comfort.
  • Costumes and what we like about the costume (often uncovering a power or access to something we can’t usually do–ie. fly, breathe fire, be so sparkly/fancy, etc).
  • Death/saying goodbye to a pet or sharing what we know about death.
I’ll include grown-ups, inviting you to share something that you feared when you were a child OR a costume you really liked wearing. Our adult stories are helpful for our children to hear– both as modeling and as a way for them to better know their beloved adults.

T 10/30 and W 10/31
Children are welcome to wear costumes to school in celebration of Halloween. I’ll dress-up and encourage Classroom Helpers to dress up as well. Note that costumes may get dirty as we play indoors and outdoors.Please support your child in wearing something that they will be warm and comfortable in, and please steer children away from particular commercial “characters” and anything scary. We’ll also have extra dress-up clothes and wigs for children or parent helpers who would like to use them. If you have any uncertainty about whether or not a costume is appropriate, please check in with me.
Do you like the idea of trick or treating but dread the candy? You might want to consider the “switch witch” ritual: Children trick-or-treat and collect candy.They then gather the candy and make an offering to the switch witch (who loves candy!) in trade for a surprise toy/gift so parents don’t have to deal with all the sugar and children still get the the thrill of dressing-up and collecting treats.
Plus, we’ll be having banana ghost pops for snack!
If you have suggestions or questions about our classroom curriculum, please let me know.