Mindful Engagement through the Seasons: Autumn Icons

Learning through the Lens of Autumn Icons

Once school is back in session, the transition from summer to autumn is signaled by a steady stream of fall icons appearing across the region that mark the season. We begin to find ourselves behinds school buses in the early morning hours while dodging squirrels racing across the roads in search of acorns before the cold settles in. Pumpkin lattes and apple cider donuts appear on cafe menus. Scarecrows, mums, and gourds decorate storefronts and front porches. The leaves of deciduous trees bloom into hues of red, orange, and yellow. And apple orchards invite families to pick-their-own apples or the convenience of 1/2 pecks of locally grown fruit for homemade apple pies and cobbler. Signs of autumn not only mark the season and engage our senses, but they are also embedded with limitless community-based educational opportunities and value-based methods for community engagement. Let’s take a quick look at three different signs of autumn that are connected to the weather, local harvest, and cultural heritage of the region and how they can support learning while strengthening a sense of place.


Rather than plowing through the months between the end of summer and the holiday season, slow down and engage your senses with the seasonal patterns of change that are happening all around you. Autumn is a time of year when we can read our landscape merely by understanding the language of leaf colors. Watch the trees on your morning commute, while waiting with your kids at the bus stop, or any place you find yourself on a regular basis. Pay attention to the weather patterns too. Early in the season, discover what tree leaves turn which colors; the first yellow leaves of aspens that begin the autumn trend; the crunch of red and brown under your favorite oak tree; brilliant orange of the sugar maples that deliver sweet sap in the late winter. Once the leaves begin to change, a visit to a nearby vista can give you a new perspective, especially if you can identify different trees by their leaf colors and layering upon your knowledge with an understanding of the impact of the weather and the biochemistry taking place inside each leaf as illustrated in this video by Scientific American:

Being mindful of the colorful transitions our landscape undergoes in the autumn gives rise to the opportunity to explore a wide variety of scientific topics as illustrated in the above video. Paying attention to the fall landscape can serve as a catalyst for studies of botany, dendrology, ecology, and natural history, and can help to deepen our sense of place and understanding of ourselves as existing within – rather than beside – our local landscape.

Here are a few ideas and links to get you going:

  • Plan a leaf matching game by collecting leaves of various shapes, sizes, and colors from nearby trees, then have scientists work to match each leaf to its tree of origin. Older participants can practice identifying specific species by using field guides matching leaves with trees in their region.
  • Watching leaves breath in a bowl of water – after patiently waiting for a few hours, close observation will reveal air bubbles!
  • A simple activity like leaf collecting can lead to some interesting activities and scientific insights.
  • Visit your local library for picture books that feature foliage to read with the littlest family member, and get them thinking about these changes too that will mark the season every year of their lives!

CBEdu Resources: Native Species, Weather, Neighborhoods, Vistas, Libraries, Parks, Trails
Interests: Botany, Dendrology, Ecology, Natural History, Meteorology, Literacy


Apple season is a favorite time of year in New England with apple orchards preserving our heritage, regional identity, and local landscape. By visiting pick-your-own apple orchards, we meet the farmers that grow our food, learn firsthand how apples grow, and engage in the seasonality of the land and the sense of belonging it instills within us. Traditional recipes, the scenic orchard landscapes, and the representation of apple-picking in literature and art remind us of how the apple has become a rich part of our cultural heritage.

Curious to try your hand at apple pie? Not sure which apples to use? You can start by asking a farmer at one of the orchards or local farmers’ markets. Farmers can usually tell you which apples are best for baking and best for eating. At River Valley Co-Op in Northampton, MA, they have a fantastic selection of heirloom apples and interpretive panels to teach you which apples are best for baking or snacking along with a little history and origin.

River Valley Co-Op in Northampton, MA (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Select your variety and try this recipe for Apple Pie or this recipe for Apple Cake from our archives. Intergenerational baking with your family at home is a delicious way to support learning via culinary arts. Kitchen chemistry and the sharing of family recipes support learning that connect us to the season and our past through seasonal foods.

After you’ve picked up your peck of apples, but before heading home to make one of the delicious recipes mentioned above, stop by your local library for a bushel of picture books that celebrate the apple! Featured here is a reading list of books about the life cycle of apples, apple–picking, and America’s mythic hero, Johnny Appleseed, plus some apple arithmetic, and books with apple pies baked into their stories. Enjoy!

CBEdu Resource: Grocery Store, Farms, Farmers’ Market, Libraries, Harvest, Recipes
Interests: Pastry Arts, Culinary Arts, Agriculture, Literacy, Food History


Every fall, just around the time the deciduous trees prepare to drop their leaves, scarecrows emerge in both traditional and commercial settings. Why now? And why scarecrows? Known around the world as mommets, hodmedods, spaventapasseri, vogelscheuche, fugleskremsel, or kakashi, scarecrows have been used to protect crops for over 3,000 years! With an understanding of their purpose, origin, and cultural heritage, scarecrows are a seasonal resource that can support learning and values that are based within traditions of agriculture, seasonal weather patterns, and cultural heritage. Getting curious about this traditional autumn icon can reveal not only their cultural heritage, but can lead to explorations of folk farming, contemporary agricultural techniques, arts and humanities, and intergenerational creative-free play. Annual celebrations and opportunities take place across the country every year.

Locally in Western MA, Scarecrow in the Park in Bernardston, MA, a yearly fundraising festival presented by their local Kiwanis Club in the town park, is one example of how scarecrows have brought a community together through service while impacting the local landscape and community traditions through creative placemaking. Another example is seasonal events offered at Atkins Farm, a country market in Amherst, MA, that facilitates weekend workshops in the autumn for families to build-their-own scarecrows to take home to their gardens or incorporate into their fall decor.

Like foliage and apples, reading lists for scarecrows can also support learning and literacy. See if your local library has any of these titles for sharing time together with your family:

  • The Little Scarecrow Boy by Margaret Wise Brown
  • Creative Scarecrows: 35 Fun Figures for Your Yard and Garden by Marcianne Miller
  • Scarecrow Pete by Mark Kimball Moulton
  • The Lonely Scarecrow by Tim Preston
  • Scarecrow by Cynthia Rylant and Lauren Stringer
  • The Scarecrow’s Dance by Jane Yolen

CBEdu Resource: Libraries, Farms, Annual Events, Markets, Service Organizations, Town Parks
Interest: Agriculture, Meteorology, Literacy, Cultural Heritage

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