I love September. I love October and November too. I think autumn is probably my favorite time of the year and one of my favorite times for fun, memorable family traditions.
First, there is scrambling for the last blackberries and huckleberries, and where we live, that also means my grandkids investigating the black bear scat that is left each night while we sleep as the black bears also scramble for the last berries. Kids and scat. They are always enthralled!
And then there is picking the lusciously ripe apples that I just want to eat right off the tree. Of course, comes the berry jellies and jams, the berry cobblers and apple crumbles and pies, apple sauce, apple cider, apple butter, apple cake…So much yummyness from nature. I just love that. Even more fun is making most of these yummy foods with the little ones after foraging them straight from nature.
Oh...and the fun harvest crafts. So Autumn. Held onto by us non-farming folk to maintain that link to the land we've lost over generations and generations, harvest crafts are part of many of my fond childhood memories. Corn dollies are one of my favorites (which have nothing to do with American corn called maize and everything to do with cereal grains, like wheat, rye, and barley grains). It’s such an old craft spanning back to the earliest civilizations, too, which I love, with lots and lots of culturally significant history attached.
Corn Dolly fun can then segway into other tales depending upon the age of your children: British folklore of the corn spirit, harvest festivals, the Greek Demeter and Persephone, the Roman Ceres, even historical hiring practices and celebrations around the celebration of autumn’s Michaelmas and old courting traditions in farming communities. There was even a painted corn dolly-like figure dating back to ancient Egypt with their goddess, Isis, Egypt being a huge agricultureal force in the height of their ancient civilization.
Barley is one of the cereal grains often used to make old fashioned corn dollies.
Regardless of if you want to leave it simple to inspire a child’s imagination or tie it into teaching your children about ancient cultures up to the modern day folk craft revival, corn dollies are such a fun craft to do with small children. They can still see their imaginary world and love creating and hanging up a corn dolly as much as they love the idea of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. You see, a corn dolly is made from some of the last grain stalks of the season and tied with pretty ribbon, usually red, to overwinter inside the house near the hearth or entryway. The corn dollie’s are then the first to be planted in the spring along with any other food and grain crops. The old superstition goes that the grain or crop spirit will be in those last pieces woven into a dolly and then when you plant them in the spring again, the spirit is released back into your field or garden to help your new crops flourish. Keeping the dolly inside during winter can also help keep away any bad spirits the dark days bring. The kids get so excited to finish their dolly and hang it nearby and they are the first to remember to plant those dollies when spring arrives!
Alternatively, use grasses with seed heads similar to grains for corn dollies if you don’t live near cereal grain fields.
I love teaching my children and grandchildren the history and folk lore behind it all and how we still see remnants of this in harvest festivals and Thanksgiving celebrations. It's so much fun. Go here to see The Guild of Strawcraftsmen’s links to other guilds and artists keeping this craft alive all over the world, including other related and non-related “corn” weaving crafts, such as weaving a traditional bee skep.
The first small rain and wind of the season and the first slight nip in the air traditionally happens where we live in late September and is a great time to introduce or reintroduce weather for all ages. Weather can be as simple or as complex as you need. The wind link above is actually appropriate for middle schoolers.
I love that first rain. That first chilly wind that comes with it. The leaves beginning to twirl to the ground from the tree tops. The pitter patter of that rain on the roof as it waxes and wanes. The squeaky creak of the trees around us complaining to the wind. The squirrels chattering and running all over trying to get the last vestiges of food squirreled away. This time of year can encourage some nice writing prompts too.
I use to tell my children and now tell my grandchildren, “Catch a falling leaf on the first day of autumn for good luck!” I never knew this was an old wives tale or superstition until years later. I just associated it with my grandmother and it had happy memories. But these silly superstitions are fun for kids too (and grandparents with visiting grandchildren!)
Then there is a bit of science, which I can’t resist, teaching. The autumnal equinox this year will be/was on September 22, which is often taught in sixth grade, and the fun names behind the full moons is fun folklore for 4th graders (the Harvest moon and the Hunter's moon ). Add to that all the moon lore that goes along with full moons, as well as moon stories and recipes for the Moon Festival and sweet or savory moon cakes. The Moon Festival (or Mid-Autumn Festival), occurs on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month each year. Because we use a solar calendar rather than a lunar calendar, the Moon Festival dates change each year. In 2022, it ran from September 10-12. In 2023, it will run September 29-October 1. Calendars (lunar verses Solar) are also something you could add on to a unit.
And of course, there is the fun tale of St. George and the Dragon and his deeds of bravery and perserverance, who also had a little help from the angel Michael. This fun tale leads us into using natural plant dyes to dye golden capes, pulling out the felt swords and shields, picking vases full of Michaelmas daisies and baking dragon bread on September 29 for Michaelmas each year. There is much to do with that as well for several age ranges from preschool up to sixth grade or so.
Children have so much fun on Michaelmas and are encouraged with some great values, and we have such little time to encourage this wonderful imagination they have. Take advantage of it every second you can!
And then the leaves! The beginning of the beautiful, changing leaves. Of course, the leaves lead into some pretty kid-friendly crafts, fun nature play and a bit more science for my children and grandchildren. I love the chlorophyll experiment and kids are always amazed. Can you tell Autumn is my jam. Just mix together fun, food, foraging, family, traditions, a bit of science, a bit of history and a sprinkle of folk lore, and it just seems like every day is a good day.
If you'd like to find out a little more about each of our traditions above, along with crafts, recipes and more, just click on the links for each and enjoy and then come back for more ideas for family fun in October.
Some of my Favorite Autumn Resources
- Celebrating the Autumn Equinox by Waverly Fitzgerald
- Autumn and Winter Activities Come Rain or Shine: Seasonal Crafts and Games for Children by Stefanie Pfister
- Transparent Window Scenes Through the Year by Michaela Kronshage and Sylvia Schwartz
- Making the Children's Year: Seasonal Waldorf Crafts with Children by Marije Rowling
- The Children's Forest: Stories, Songs, Wild Foods, Crafts & Celebrations
- Crafts Through the Year by Thomas and Petra Berger
- Festivals Family and Food: Guide to Seasonal Celebration
- A Child's Seasonal Treasury by Betty Jones
- Tell Me A Story by Louise deForest, Deborah Greider and Jo Valens
- Tell Me Another Story by Louise deForest, Deborah Greider and Jo Valens
Some of my Favorite Autumn Children's Books
- Mooncakes by Loretta Seto, bookshop.org
- We Gather Together, Celebrating the Harvest Season by Wendy Pfeffer
- Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson
- Leaves by David Ezra Stein
- Leaf Man by Lois Elhert
- Because of an Acorn by Lola M. Schaefer
- Autumn by Gerda Muller
- The Festival of Stones by Reg Down
- Wynstones Autumn: A Collection of Poems, Songs and Stories for Young Children
- Children of the Forest by Elsa Beskow
- Woody, Hazel and Little Pip by Elsa Beskow
- Pumpkin Cat by Anne Mortimer
- Spin a Scarf of Sunshine by Dawn Casey and Stila Lim
- The Apple Cake by Nienke van Hitchum and Marjan van Zeyl