Thursday, September 8, 2011

Making Connections with Books on Fall for some Fall Learning Fun

Fall is by far my favorite time of year.  Not because of Sunday football, picking pumpkins, bonfires, spiked cider, or scary movies.  No, Fall is my favorite time of year because I associate it with learning.  There is something about "back to school" that has always excited me.  It could be the fresh start, new textbooks, or the thought of writing papers, but whatever it is, I fell in LOVE with being "back to school" (and school in general) at a very young age.

I've been "back to school" in some way every Fall for as long as I can remember.  There was grade school, then high school, followed by college, masters program, then doctoral program.  Once I was done being a student, I worked in a school, and also taught as an adjunct professor.

This year is different, though.  For the first time I'm not "back to school" in ANY way, shape, or form.  So to give me that back to school feeling, baby bookworm and I played school this week.  I guess you can say we play "school" all the time, but we tend to do many activities on the fly, and not necessarily organized around a theme. 

In honor of back to school, baby bookworm and I worked our way through eight "subjects" with a bunch of Fall inspired learning activities. 

Here's a recap of our "school" schedule:

Subject 1: READING

For reading "class" we are read books about Fall (shocker, right?) such as....

Bright baby touch and feel

This is a touch and feel, first-word "baby" book that is full of Fall words and objects. Even though I imagine this book is meant for a much younger audience than my baby bookworm, since she LOVED this book last Fall I thought we would take a look at it again.  Repetition enhances learning, as you probably know.  Plus, it's kind of amazing to me that in one year's time she can now say all of the words in the book, and "read" it on her own. 

The bottom line: If you have a newborn or baby under the age of one, I highly recommend this book as a good way to introduce the season and work on receptive vocabulary. If you have a toddler, I think it's still a good book for expressive vocabulary and even to do a little sight reading.

Boo to You! by Lois Ehlert

This is a book about a bunch of mice who are preparing for a Fall harvest party and trying to keep a cat from ruining their fun.  In order to do so, they decide to scare that "scary cat".  Boo to You! has great illustrations that are incredibly crafty.  Ehlert mixes different textured papers, string, and photographs to make beautifully artistic characters in this book.  Baby bookworm loves the part of the book where they scare the cat, and also loves the last two pages that list a bunch fall items (many of which were new to her such as a gourd, pecan, and sycamore fruit).  You and your baby bookworm might want to read this book cuddled up under a blanket with a warm cup of hot chocolate - it just gives you that kind of a feeling.

Arthur Jumps into Fall by Marc Brown

Baby bookworm has been on an Arthur kick lately.  Some of the other Arthur books in the series can be quite lengthy, but I found this one to be the perfect compromise between too easy and completely overwhelming.

In this story, Arthur is given the task of raking leaves from their yard - which he doesn't find very fun!  But with the help of a few of his best friends, he finds the job done in no time, and they all end up enjoying themselves along the way.

I Know It's Autumn by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Nancy Hayashi

This is a great book to help get you in an Autumn mood because it reminds you of all of the fun things you can do, only during this time of the year.  The story repeats the line, "I know it's autumn when...." which is a fabulous way to begin a discussion with your baby bookworm about how the two of you know when it's autumn. 

While reading these books to your baby bookworm don't forget to work on concepts of print, and explicitly point out and talk about any new vocabulary you may encounter (for strategies on how to do this, visit here). 

Also have a discussion about Fall, and remember to refer back to these books if you do any other Fall inspired activities.  Making connections between old and new knowledge is one easy way to help aid learning.  Read on to see how I've used these books to make connections among different aspects of baby bookworm's knowledge.

Here's a list of some of the Fall vocabulary we learned with the help of these books:
Gourd, Autumn, Jack-o-lantern, Harvest, Squirrel, Bonfire, Rake, Mum, Acorn, Hayride, Apple, Indian corn, Pile of leaves

Subject 2: MATH

For our math lesson we played a sorting counting game.  What I did was assemble little acorns out of construction paper ahead of time, and marked each one with either an uppercase A or a lowercase a.  Then I had baby bookworm place each into one of two baskets that were labeled with an uppercase A or lowercase a.  We counted the acorns as she went along.  We talked about "more" and "less" as well (our uppercase A basket had more than our lowercase a basket). 

In addition to this being a math lesson, it snuck in a little phonemic awareness too, which is an important pre-reading skill! 

Making Connections: Baby bookworm learned the concept of an acorn one day while we were at a garden that we frequent.  When we read Boo To You! I pointed out the acorns to baby bookworm in the pictures and said "remember when we picked up acorns at the garden".  She said "yes, like a hat" - referring to a conversion we had had previously about how the top part of the acorn seemed like a hat.

Now when we did this math activity I referred back to both of her previous experiences with acorns.  We got out Boo To You! again and I said, "Look, mommy made pretend acorns that we can play a game with". 

This activity was a great way to use a word that we had learned before but in a new context. 

Subject 3: SCIENCE

Our science "class" consisted of a taste testing and apple "dissection" (by the way, baby bookworm knew the word apple before this lesson, but not in the context of Fall).  I bought one granny smith apple and one red apple and cut them up into small bites.  We then tasted each one and talked about how they tasted different.  I introduced the words "sour" and "sweet" to baby bookworm.  We also talked about the different parts of the apple like the skin, stem, and seeds and discussed how apples grow.  Then we "dissected" the apple by peeling off the skin and cutting it open to reveal the "star" and seeds (which baby bookworm found fascinating). 

Baby bookworm and I also compared apples and arranged them from biggest to smallest, talked about how the biggest apple felt heavier than the smallest apple, and discussed the shape of the apples (which she exclaimed were "round").

This activity is a great ACTIVE way to learn new vocabulary, and has lots of hidden math lessons too.  If you want to branch this out as a math activity, you could pair this lesson with the book Apple Countdown (for a summary of it, visit here).

Making Connections: An apple was not a new object to baby bookworm; but here I expanded her understanding of this object.  We talked about how apples come from trees and that apple picking is a Fall activity.  We got out I Know It's Autumn and discussed the front cover making the connection back to a familiar learning context.


Our social studies lesson wasn't too involved, but a good time nevertheless!  All we did was use baby bookworm's map of the US to talk about the different regions of the country and what Fall might feel and look like in that region.  In this particular puzzle that we have, the pieces are actually divided up by region (not state), so it paired very nicely with my lesson.  We got it pretty cheap too from a Borders bookstore that was going out of business.

Subject 5: RECESS

For "recess" I wanted to get baby bookworm running around to work out some of that energy even on a rainy day (seriously, what is WITH this rain - it's been non stop for days on end).  So I made up a leaf pick-up game.  What I did was I used some fake leaves that I had gotten at the craft store (for another project, but why not use them twice?) and we pretended to rake them into a pile (just like Arthur does in Arthur Jumps Into Fall).  She loved the raking part and even correctly used her newly learned vocabulary while doing this activity.

Then baby bookworm and I had a race to see who could run over to the pile and pick up a leaf first.  Recess would have been better outside, but we had a blast anyway.  I actually worked up a sweat, and baby bookworm got in some exercise while working on her gross motor skills.

Raking leaves like in Arthur's book
Making connections:  We made the obvious connection with this activity back to the book we had read, and it made her want to go read the book again!  We also talked about the color of the leaves; we took a peek outside on this dreary day and I pointed out that our leaves were still on the tree and green.  I asked her what color Arthur and her leaves were and she told me "oranges" (yes, like the fruit).  Then I explained more about the season of Fall and that soon enough our leaves outside would turn colors.  I think she's looking forward now to jumping into a real pile of leaves!  And when she finally gets her chance, trust me, I will remind her of this very activity.

Subject 6: ART

Art class consisted of a few projects. 

Free style painting with apple "stampers" --
making the connection back to our apple tasting

Fall collage made from a Family Circle magazine --
making the connection back to the collage in Boo to You!

Apple mosaic made with contact and tissue paper  --
not sure if there was a connection here other than back to
apples being a Fall object
Art is a great way to enhance fine motor skills.  For a few other ideas and more information, read this old post.

Subject 7: MUSIC

We learned this song for music.  Baby bookworm LOVED it.  WARNING: your child will want to watch this no less than 20 times in a row and you will hate me for it. 

Making Connections: I connected this song back to Boo to You! where there is a page of jack-o-lanterns (pumpkins).  I actually think I may also do an art project with baby bookworm based on this song.

Subject 8: THEATER

For our "theater" class we played house.  I had baby bookworm put on her apron and we pretended to cook a Fall harvest meal (like in Boo to You!) on her play kitchen.  We pretended to make corn on the cob, a turkey, and apple pie!

Carving the turkey
Enjoying the feast!


For our after school activity we played dress up, which baby bookworm LOVES to do.  She was SO proud of herself in her cheerleading outfit!  We tossed around a stuffed football for added fun! 

Supporting both Mommy and Daddy's favorite teams

Pretend play is a fantastic way to build language skills, so you might want to get those Halloween costumes out a little early.  To learn more about the benefits of pretend play, click here.  Playing ball is a great way to foster the development of gross motor skills.

So what is the Ed Psych 101 "back to school" lesson for YOU?

Happy back to school everyone!  And happy learning!


  1. As a literacy prof, I love what you are doing here! Looking forward to reading some more!

  2. Thanks! We love books in this house! Sounds like we have some similar interests, but my professional research has been in the area of learning/memory/cogntion. Looking forward to reading on your blog as well!

  3. Marissa you are such a fun mom!

  4. Thanks H.! I try! I can't wait till she's old enough to be able to read all of this for herself!


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