Toddler Autumn Excavation Activity

We. Love. Fall.

Here is Atlanta, with autumn, comes more temperate weather and increased outdoor time. We get to investigate the changes in natures, the cyclical rhythms of the world around us, and get our hands dirty with natural artifacts.

every bin was as unique as our children.

Managing transitions are a key developmental process for toddlers. From leaving play to head home, moving from bath to bedtime, or even managing a transatlantic flight, toddlers' young minds can struggle to shift gears as quickly as adults may. At Grand Magnolia, we have celebrated the shift from Summer into Autumn theme as a way to discuss, explore, and play with the concept of change.

Our little ones have loved collecting seedpods, pinecones, and tiny plants, marveling at the differences in their color and learning about how deciduous trees lose their leaves with the season through hands-on, experiential activities.

we love to learn colors, shapes, textures, and numbers experientially what colors do you see?

As part of our learning journey into Fall, we have been thrilled to explore our local Natural History Museum, Fernbank and it's expansive outdoor space, WildWoods. It's an early childhood development dream rich with images, sites, activities and sounds that help our little explorers to experiences the topics that we are discussing in order to gain a more rich connection to the learning material. There, our children showed an acute interest in leaves and twigs embedded in Georgia soil and loved exploring texture, developing fine motor skills, and working cooperatively to try to collect objects that had fallen on the forest floor around them.

a curious little explorer at his dig site

A core tenant of the pedagogical philosophy of Grand Magnolia is bridging experiential/excursion-based learning and more traditional preschool developmental activities (e.g., floor time, crafts, learning centers). So, of course, we had to do something to bring this amazing experience back to our learning home.

One of our wonderful lead teachers, Ms. Tylasia, proposed a lesson having our toddlers help us create a sensory bin in Plaster of Paris using materials the children collected individually on our walk through Wildwoods. We then worked one-on-one with children to embedded the materials in the Plaster of Paris. They helped mix the materials. They made a beautiful mess. They. had. a. blast! They seemed so proud to have things they found themselves incorporated into the craft. We loved seeing learning be so fun and engaging.

we think hands-on learning is the best type

The next day, each child had a unique Autumn Sensory Bin to explore. From there, thanks to our awesome ratios, our early childhood educators were able to work one-on-one with each child to explore their bins as each child wanted to. One 16-month old carried over his tiny paintbrush and did a toddler excavation! He loved freeing the tiny acorns and leaves and dusting off to reveal the imprints. We practiced new words (excavation, archaeology, seedpod) and explored the colors, textures, numbers, and so much more all through this activity.

the aftermath of a dig - can you see the tiny imprints and patterns?

I thought I'd share it for other early childhood educators out there looking for a new fall activity. Supplies are listed below and it's an easy, albeit slightly messy, but definitely worthwhile, activity that can easily be modified for different environments, ages, and interests.

a very proud, competent little archaeologist

For the love of children,



Natalie Nelson Summerville, Ph.D.

Director + Founder, Grand Magnolia Early Learning Center

Toddler Autumn Excavation Activity Instructions + Materials:

A great activity for monitored toddlers aged 1.5 - 4. Be sure to keep an eye on small materials!


aluminum foil pans

plaster of paris

mixing and spreading supplies (e.g., spatula)

various natural artifacts (e.g., seeds, leaves, sticks)

sheet to cover floor

excavation tools (paint brush/toy mallet)

one (or more) curious toddler(s)

#nature #handson #colors #textures #sensory #toddler #activities #outdoortime

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