Now is the time that the leaves have started changing into their beautiful colors. Here in the north east, we are hitting peak leaf color season and my toddler’s eyes are delighted with wonder seeing them fall to the ground.
She loves picking them up and telling me the different colors that she sees. There are so many wonderful things that nature has to offer and finding a multi-sensory activity that engages them is the best way to take advantage of it.
Using nature’s tools from right outside, you can get your toddler learning and exploring with this multi-sensory fall leaf painting activity. Using natural objects is not only cheaper than buying crafts, but also activates their growing cognitive skills and awareness of seasonal changes in their world.
This fall leaf painting activity encourages play outside, in addition to development of fine motor skills, labeling, and multi-sensory engagement. It can also be completely free if you already have some of the other materials (which are typically used during most arts and crafts).
Your child will be making a fall wreath using natural materials and paint, that they will be proud to hang up outside your front door or wherever you want in your household!
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What you will need:
- 2-3 small pine cones and acorns your child can pick-up and find outside or at a park
- 4-5 different size and colored leaves (brighter the better)
- Ziplock bag
- Non-toxic, washable paint set
- Chunky paint brushes with large handles
- A paper plate
- Newspaper or construction paper (to protect your table from the mess)
- Paint smock (or you can have your child be diaper only if no smock is available).
- Rope string
- Hole puncher
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What to do:
Disclaimer: Parent supervision is highly recommended during all activities!
- First, take your toddler out for a walk or even just to run around your yard. Have them pick up different leaves and pine cones that they find. Bring a plastic bag to collect them in.
2. Draw a large circle along the inner ring of a paper plate. Punch a small hole in with a paper-clip end or hole puncher to cut out the inner circle. The plate should end up looking like a wreath.
3. Setup newspapers or construction paper on the table to prevent it from getting messy (because it will).
4. Squirt some paint directly on the paper or on another paper plate, and demonstrate how they should paint on the leaves and pinecones. Then, have them use the paint-brush (or fingers) to paint all over them!
5. Have your child also paint the paper plate. While the paint is still wet, stick the leaves around the plate.
6. You may need to use glue to get the pine cones and acorns to stick since they are heavier. Your child can help squeeze the glue onto the plate (with parent’s assistance) to help glue on pine-cones and acorns.
7. Have your child help put a hole at the top of the plate using a hole puncher. You can then thread the string into the hole to hang wherever they want!
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Skills that this activity addresses
This is a fun, multi-sensory activity, which means it engages different sensory systems (i.e. touch, smell, sight). In addition, this activity addresses different developmental skills.
1. Multi-sensory engagement
Your toddler will be frequently touching and feeling different textures during the activity. They’ll experience various tactile materials, including the bumpy and crackling textures of the leaves and pinecones, or the wet, slimy texture of the paint.
Hearing the crunch of the leaves when they hold them engages their auditory senses. They will also be seeing different items and colors, of varying sizes and shapes.
2. Language/Vocabulary and Cognition
You can help your toddler label objects that they might find on the ground when searching for items for their wreath. Color identification can be used when finding the leaves and choosing paints to use. Also, independence can be encouraged when having them choose what colors and leaves to use, and have them show or tell you where they are placing them.
3. Fine motor skills and coordination
Have your toddler use either a paintbrush or their hands to finger paint the leaves, pinecones, and acorns. Encourage holding a paintbrush using either hand, or have them practice finger isolation by finger-painting.
Squeezing the hole puncher, cutting, or threading the string may be tough for the younger toddlers, but older ones may assist with this engaging more fine motor skills.
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Ways to Improve Language and Cognition:
- Verbally label items that your child needs to find outside
- Make it a scavenger hunt by showing pictures on your phone or on paper
- Incorporate color identification of leaves, paint, and objects
- Directional words can be used throughout activity to put on wreath (on top, below, next to, etc.)
Ways to Increase Multi-sensory Engagement:
- Have your toddler crinkle a leaf or touch paint and ask them how it feels (hot vs cold, soft vs hard).
- Ask them what they hear when they are outside and the wind is blowing, or when the paint comes out of the tube and makes a squishing noise.
- By labeling, ask them what they see outside or on the wreath.
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Ways to incorporate fine-motor coordination
- Encourage holding of paint-brush to improve coordination and facilitating hand dominance. If grasp is difficult for them, try using a larger grip brush or put some playdough around the brush to make it easier to hold.
- For finger painting, you may want to initially go over fingers first to improve isolation ( “Daddy Finger Song”; “Where is Thumb-kin?”), and then encourage them to use one finger at a time to paint.
- For the older toddlers, have them assist with hole punching, cutting, and stringing the thread. This will develop the muscles in their hands and fine motor coordination.
Don’t be afraid to get messy, this encourages creativity and autonomy. I hope you and your toddler enjoy this fall leaf painting activity and make sure you have lots of wipes on hand!
About the Author
My name is Rebecca Razzano. I am a proud Mommy of a 2 year old girl and 3 month old boy, and my days are filled with snuggles and lots of giggles, with the occasional cry (or 2)! I am a pediatric occupational therapist from NJ. I usually am working with littles ones in an elementary school, but right now I am a stay at home mom. Every day is an adventure in my household, and I can’t wait to share more stories and activities with you! You got this!