Picture of a father and his young son collecting pine cones in a forest in the autumn. Black text on a white background reads "Supporting Early Language Skills with Fall Treasures"

Supporting Early Language Skills with Fall Treasures

Autumn is my favourite season, not only because the leaves change colours and the air gets crisper, but it’s also the perfect time to support caregivers to engage in fun and seasonal activities with their little ones! In this blog post you’ll learn 5 engaging activities for supporting early language skills with fall treasures, and learn 5 language facilitation strategies you can coach caregivers to use when they do these activities too.

What are “Fall Treasures”?

Fall Treasures (AKA. Autumn Treasures) is the name for all the various things you can find and collect throughout autumn. For example, conkers (AKA. buckeyes), acorns, leaves, seeds, twigs, pine cones, and chestnuts.
This activity is perfect for families that enjoy going on walks with their little ones. You can encourage caregivers to go on a nature walk with their child in their local area and collect the different things they see while out and about (little kids are naturally curious and they love collecting things like this. Plus, a nature walk is a language-rich activity in itself!).
They can then use these fall treasures in different activities at home with their child to support their language skills. Bonus- this is a completely free but very language-rich experience for families!

Supporting Early Language Skills with Fall Treasures – Words to Model

There are many words you can model when collecting and playing with fall/autumn treasures. But as with every activity, it’s essential to choose target words and vocabulary that are most suitable for each child’s developmental stage.
Here’s a simple tip to share with caregivers: focus on just a few target words when collecting and playing with fall treasures. If suitable, choose different types of words to help develop their vocabulary beyond just nouns.

Here are some suggested target words to get you started:

  • Nouns (names of things): leaf/leaves, seed, twig, acorn, etc.
  • Core words: help, more, see, want, yes, no, etc.
  • Verbs (action words): look, find, pick up, get, carry, hold, etc.
  • Symbolic sounds and exclamatory words: oo, ahh, yay, wow, yuk, etc.
Picture of conkers/buckeys on a white background. The title- grey script font with a green underline- reads "Autumn Treasures".  Scattered around the picture of the conkers are various target words you can model, such as round, woah, spiky, shiny, etc.
You can model a variety of different target words when collecting fall treasures such as conkers (buckeyes).

5 Ways to Play with Fall Treasures at Home

Once families have collected their autumn/fall treasures, they can be used so many ways in play! Here’s 5 of my favourite ways to play with fall treasures while also supporting early language skills:

  1. Egg Box Sorting: Grab an empty egg box and some tongs or a spoon. Encourage the child to put a buckeye/conker or acorn in each space in the egg box. This activity promotes fine motor skills while also building vocabulary skills. Model words like “in”, “out”, “more”, “yay”, “uh oh”, “help”, etc. while playing.
  2. Sensory Bin Exploration: Create a sensory bin by placing all the collected items in a large container. Encourage the child to play with and explore the different items. Wooden spoons and empty bowls can add an extra layer of fun to this sensory experience. Playing with the fall treasures in a sensory bin like this gives them an opportunity to explore the fall treasures at their own pace. Coach caregivers to follow their child’s lead and to comment on the different items their child is playing with.
  3. Item Sorting: Sort the items into groups. While doing so, talk about the different items, describing their appearance and texture. This is an excellent opportunity to introduce new vocabulary while also working on early categorisation skills, and concepts like same/different, big/small, etc.
  4. Play Dough Creations: Get some play dough, either store-bought or homemade, and let the child’s creativity run wild. Incorporate the fall treasures into the play dough play, creating hedgehogs, patterns, and more. This is another fun activity that works on fine motor skills while also building language skills! You can model lots of verbs while playing with the dough and fall treasures in this way; “press”, “roll”, “squash”, “dig”, “hide”, etc.
  5. Nature Bath: Place all the collected items in a container of water. Encourage the child to wash them. This fun sensory activity provides a great opportunity to work on language skills and to introduce concepts like wet/dry, dirty/clean, hot/cold, etc. You can model verbs like “wash”, “dry”, “stir”, “mix”, etc. while playing too.
There's a white background with pine cones and acorns scattered around. In the middle are two pieces of brown paper. On the paper there's a handout about collecting fall treasures and another with visuals for fall treasures. A child's hand is pointing to a picture of a pine cone.
Grab your copy of this handout, along with 16 other fall activity handouts (plus lots more) in the Fall Early Language Handouts resource, available in my TPT store here.

5 Language Facilitation Strategies to use with Fall Treasures

There are many different language facilitation strategies you can coach caregivers to use when they play with fall treasures with their child. Here are some examples:

Black script text on a white backgroudn reads "follow their lead". Text underneath this reads "watch what the child is showing an interest in, then join in with them and comment on what you can see". On the right is a picture of a father and child looking at pine cones in a forest.
  1. Naming/Modelling: Name the things the child is looking at/holding/doing, e.g., “a leaf”, “acorn”, etc.
  2. Commenting: Talk about what you/the child are doing and what is happening, what you can see, etc. Use simple words and phrases, for example, “a pine cone”, “I have a leaf”, etc.
  3. Following their Lead: Watch what the child is showing an interest in and comment on this. If you can, let them decide what they want to do next and when they want to move on. I.e., if they want to keep searching for acorns, join in with them and comment on what is happening.
  4. Copy and Add: Repeat what the child has said and add another word so they hear how to make their sentences longer. For example, child: “stick”, adult: “big stick”. If your child uses two words, you add a third, etc.
  5. Use Gestures: Use gestures to accompany comments, for example, put your arms wide apart to show “big”. Encourage the child to point to, or reach for, the leaves they want/can see. Say the words as you make the gesture, and respond to any gestures that your child uses.

If you want a caregiver-friendly handout for fall treasures, with play ideas, target words, and language strategies, all ready to print & go, check out the Fall Early Language Handouts available from my TPT store.

Autumn is a wonderful season for nurturing language and communication skills in young children. The simple act of collecting fall treasures can turn into a language-rich, learning-filled experience. Remember, these suggestions are just a starting point, and you can adapt them to suit each child and family’s individual needs and interests.

Want more autumnal ideas? Check out this blog post for 5 ways you can use pumpkins to supporting early language skills too.

Do you have any other ways you play with fall treasures? Let me know in the comments!