Autumn. It’s the perfect opportunity to get outside, and explore the vivid colours and exciting changes going on in nature.

Scrunch through the fallen leaves on a fresh dry day; splosh through the puddles when its rainy. Observe the different leaf colours: how many can you count?

This time of year also offers the chance to gather an interesting, varied collection of goodies to bring home.

  • conkers and chestnuts, with out without their cases
  • twigs
  • fallen leaves – different sizes, shapes, colours, textures
  • sycamore seeds or ‘keys’
  • pine cones

Once you’ve gathered a collection together from visiting the park or walking home from nursery, it’s time to play – and learn too. There are plenty of activities which use these items in structured activities: leaf printing, conker caterpillars, counting and sorting games.

But these loose parts and found items are great sources of inspiration for free play, too. The curiosity approach encourages children to use their own imaginations to direct their play, allowing creativity and wonder to lead in open-ended exploration. All you need to do as a parent or carer is facilitate these kinds of activities.

Sensory play


Your collection of autumnal objects is perfect for some hands-on sensory play.

Use a space you don’t mind getting a little messy, like a kitchen table. Spread all your objects out, with some extras like paint, cups and glue or dough. If your child is very young or is very used to structured activities, give them a hand to start off.

What noise does the conker make if I put it in a cup and shake it, or knock it on the table? What happens when I scrunch up a leaf in my fist? How does it feel to tightly hold a pine cone? Once your child is engaged, they’ll interact with the items in the ways they find most interesting: building, destroying, sorting.

Autumnal Small World

The Imagination Tree small world

This simple idea from The Imagination Tree gives your collection of found autumnal objects a place in a new, imaginative world.

By combining pine cones, twigs and other items with familiar toys, your child can create a whole new setting for existing play patterns. A pine cone can be a house, a car, a dog, a present. Who else lives here? Where are they going?

Why not create a ‘place’ like this together, starting just with a box or drawer and your collection of objects. Let your little one lead. Where will they take you?

Invitation to create

invitation to create

No easy access to a park? Already fed up with a house full of conkers and twigs?

You can still enjoy some autumn-themed free play together this weekend, with this idea from Buggy and Buddy. Keep it simple, with just a few paints, tissue paper and glue. It’s up to your child what they create with that you’ve laid out. A beautiful abstract picture, or a tree? A collage, or a 3D creation?

These work just as well with some autumn objects thrown in.

Have fun!