Guide Excellence: How Ms. Natalie Adapts her Guidepost Toddler Classroom for Fall
A conversation exploring 10+ Montessori-Inspired fall-themed toddler activities you can also do at home
Lead Toddler Guide at Guidepost at Downtown Naperville
Hi everyone! My name is Ms. Natalie, and I'm a toddler Lead Guide at Guidepost Montessori Downtown Naperville, just outside of Chicago. I have been at Guidepost for over two years, and I am currently working towards a Montessori Nido/Toddler diploma at the Prepared Montessori Institute. I started working at Guidepost out of curiosity and was lucky enough to find out that working with children is my passion!
I love the Montessori Method because of the deep love and respect it shows for the child. It's all about guiding children to reach their highest potential and become the best person they can be. I love teaching young children to build independence in a way that brings them confidence and joy, and I feel so lucky to be a small part of these big lives!
Personalizing the Prepared Environment
I love to create a classroom environment that feels warm, welcoming, and exciting for the child. Throughout the class, I have picture frames of me with my family and my classroom assistant with her family. I also have picture frames of the children all over the room. It gives our environment a welcoming and home-like atmosphere.
When I first started adapting the environment for the various seasons and holidays, I started out small by swapping colors on my art shelf for each holiday. Red and pink stickers for Valentine’s Day, or green watercolors for St. Patrick’s Day. I quickly realized that it was simple to create materials for each holiday and season—and they didn't need to cost a lot of money or take a lot of time!
When I decorate the environment for any season, I try to keep it simple and not distracting for the child.
For fall this year, I added some fall window clings to our window and found cute moss pumpkins for the window sill in the Target $1 section! As a class, we painted a wooden pumpkin together and chose a spot in the room to hang it. It is such a cute decor piece, and the children love that they were a part of decorating the room.
When families and visitors stop by, they're greeted by a fall-themed sign telling them what room they're in, and pumpkins placed throughout the classroom. I also adapt a classic Montessori toddler activity which traditionally allows the child to beautify the environment: flower arranging. For fall, I simply supply a variety of red and yellow flowers for the children to create their own fall flower arrangements.
Beyond decoration, I like to create Montessori-inspired work for the children to do. Fall is one of my favorite times of year to create this purposeful and fun work for the child. I am excited to share some of my examples with you.
1. Peeling Fall Stickers
In a Guidepost classroom, we help toddlers develop their fine motor skills using many different engaging activities. These activities not only help prepare the children to do many practical life skills that require hand strength and coordination, it also helps them prepare their hands for writing later on in Children's House (preschool to kindergarten).
The best part? We can create activities like sticker peeling that the children love!
To spice up the activity for fall and entice the children to build their ability to concentrate, I changed the stickers to include fun pumpkins and glittery fall leaves. It's such a simple and fun way to excite the child. They love these pumpkin and leaf stickers!
2. Cutting Fall Paper with Scissors
Similar to peeling stickers, cutting with scissors is an interesting and challenging activity that helps children develop their hand strength and coordination.
This fall, I swapped the usual paper for some Halloween themed versions. The pumpkin, skeleton, and polka dot paper is exciting and different for the children, giving them the motivation they need to want to practice. Small swaps like this are such a simple way to spruce up your environment for each season!
3. Sorting Pumpkins by Size
Sorting pumpkins by color and size is a wonderful gross motor, problem-solving, and language activity. The children really love to work with real objects, and the pumpkins have such interesting textures and colors to explore.
First, I arrange them from smallest to largest, then I ask the child if she wants to arrange them too. It works well to have them in the basket on the shelf and have the child remove each pumpkin one by one. They bring one pumpkin over and set it on the rug and then return to the shelf to grab another. Doing this gives them such an engaging way to use their big energy in moving across the classroom.
Sorting pumpkins also allows the children to practice coordinating their hands and bodies to carry and place the pumpkins just so, as well as providing an opportunity to hear key vocabulary about different sizes and colors.
4. Language Baskets with Fall Vegetables
In a Guidepost toddler classroom, we use language baskets to introduce a wide range of vocabulary to young children. In each basket, the child finds various objects and matching pictures. Usually, the baskets have a theme. They may be farm animals, kitchen implements, or miniature orchestral instruments.
These baskets of real objects are fascinating to toddlers because they love learning new words and exploring the details of small items. But more than this, these objects and activities help the child build an expansive vocabulary which will be a major boost with reading comprehension later on.
For fall, I love to use real fruit and vegetables for language baskets. In my basket now, I have delicata squash, butternut squash, a gourd, a small pumpkin, and a sweet potato. Acorn squash and spaghetti squash could also work really well. All these vegetables are great to use because they last a long time without perishing!
Another added benefit is that squash are heavy, so the children get another opportunity to use maximum effort lifting and carrying them, just like they want to—all the while they're refining their gross and fine motor skills!
To do the activity, the children first match the squash to its picture. I then play a fun game with the child to teach her the name of each vegetable. First, I share the name of a few of them. Once the child is familiar with me saying the names, we play a kind of Simon Says style game to help her learn to recognize and associate the names with the correct vegetable.
For example, I will say, “Can you take the delicata squash and place it on your shoulder?” and then she'll grab the right vegetable in order to do what was asked. With vegetables on our heads, we often can't help but giggle together!
5. Sorting Leaves by Color
We use sorting trays in the classroom all the time. These activities allow the child to develop the use of their hands and their minds. In picking up the objects, the child refines her movements and makes them more precise, and in sorting them, she learns to pay attention to details, discern similarities and differences, and build the foundation of logical thinking.
I love doing all different kinds of sorting trays in my environment. You can do visual, tactile, and so many more! For this activity, I used an old silverware organizer and found these cute leaves at a dollar store. The children love to organize the leaves by color. This work is fun for the child and I think it looks beautiful on our shelf.
6. Pumpkin Pounding
A really great way to inspire children to use their desire for movement in a purposeful way is pumpkin pounding. This work is a class favorite! I use a large pumpkin, some golf tees, and a sturdy wooden hammer.
Pounding the tees into the pumpkin requires a good amount of hand-eye coordination, and the satisfaction of pounding them successfully provides the motivation a child needs to practice the skill repeatedly.
7. Pumpkin Scrubbing
Scrubbing the table is a traditional practical life activity in a toddler environment. This is a deeply engaging activity because it requires so much coordination, attention to detail, and fine motor control. And it doesn't hurt that it involves gathering, pouring, and using lots of water!
For the fall, I adapt the activity a bit to include the opportunity to scrub a pumpkin. Using a medium-sized pumpkin, a scrub brush, soap, and buckets to gather and hold water, the children work to remove the blemishes off a white pumpkin where they stand out so starkly. The satisfaction of removing them is a profound source of motivation for the child, and the control of error in being able to see the blemishes so clearly allows the child to be independent in assessing her own work.
8. Corn Kernel Transfer
Toddlers gain such a deep and deserved sense of self-confidence when they learn to use the same everyday objects we adults use to accomplish a task. Using tweezers can be challenging, and fun activities with them allow the child to develop her fine motor skills.
For fall, I use dried Indian corn and tweezers, and I show the child how to pluck the kernels and transfer them to a bowl. The children love to work on this, watching as the bowl fills with kernels that they plucked. Once we have a lot of corn kernels in the bowl, we transfer them to pitchers to use for pouring practice. I love this work!
9. "Spider" Transferring
Similar, but slightly more challenging than the corn kernel transfer work, I created another transfer activity using long wooden tongs in place of tweezers.
I got the idea for this work from my colleague, Ms. Yaneth. She is very creative! I found these spiders at my local drugstore and asked her to help me think of a fun work for the children. The string represents a web and provides a layer of difficulty when transferring the spiders from the basket to the bowl with the tongs.
10. Ping Pong Ball Transfer
This activity is another adaptation of work I have in the classroom. Usually, I use small key limes or red potatoes, but for Halloween I decided to add a fun element for the child.
Much like the other transfer activities, the child uses the tongs, larger metal ones in this case, to pick up the ping pong balls and transfer them to the egg holder. Placing them in the egg holder adds an additional and different kind of challenge than simply dropping into a bowl, so the children find it very exciting!
11. Spooky Grain Scooping
Scooping grain with a spoon is another inviting practical life activity for a toddler. Not only does she find the work mesmerizing, but it builds her hand-eye coordination and helps her gain even greater independence for using silverware when eating.
This work is really easy to adapt for the seasons or holidays by switching out the little bowls. For fall, I found these ceramic Halloween cauldrons at the craft store!