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Autumn already? Teaching the changing seasons

Autumn already? Teaching the changing seasons


Education Officer Helen Robinson mulls over the changes in the New Forest National Park as summer gives way to autumn and how to teach this to school children.

School term is here, as are harvest assemblies, conker battles and fungi forays. The sudden arrival of school term makes you wonder why we expect a clear and definite line between summer and autumn, winter and spring. What curious questions could students ask about the mysterious science of phenology (the study of seasonal change in plants and animals)?

  • Can it be summer and autumn at the same time?
  • Is it autumn in Loch Lomond National Park yet?
  • Where does the green go?

I like autumn because it is always surprising, there is some new fungus I’ve never seen before, the unexpected crunch of acorns on a path I regularly walk, even a spider web in the face as I walk up the garden path in the morning.

Attending an activity session with the team at Testwood Lakes Nature Reserve recently, I enjoyed the surprising idea of painting with blackberries, instead of eating them… (though just as many made it to our mouths as to the paint pot). This got me thinking to what alternative autumn activities could be invented.

How about:

  • The horse/ chestnut identity parade. Find horse chestnuts and sweet chestnuts and ask some pupils to convince us they came from the same tree (describe similarities) and others that they are alien to each other (describe differences).
  • Smudge painting. Pick berries, brown and orange leave, dried flower heads and find out which ones, with a bit of squashing, will make marks or paint on a postcard.
  • Spiders in the mist. If you can’t get everyone up and out early enough to see the morning dew or frost on the autumn webs, search for webs armed only with a gentle plant “mister” to squirt at them?
  • Leaf art in reverse. We all love making pictures out of fallen leaves and trying to emulate Andy Goldsworthy … if only we had the time. But how about finding something already there and looking for the images hidden within.
  • Hidden monsters, my favourite, inspired by our friends at Minstead Study Centre. Choose a volunteer (wearing long sleeves and trousers etc) to lie down in the autumn leaves. Place a few sticks strategically to make a frame and then heap leaves over them to cover them almost entirely. EXPLODE from the leaves at just the right moment in a story or song!

Why not find out more about phenology at Nature’s calendar from the Woodland Trust?

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