September 23rd is the autumnal equinox when there are equal hours of daylight and darkness. Equinox literally means “equal night”. It’s the time when we notice the change in the astronomical seasons from summer to autumn; harvests are gathered in, days become shorter, birds migrate south and many animals begin a period of gathering food for the leaner months ahead.
It’s interesting to note that the northern and southern hemispheres celebrate equinoxes and solstices as opposites. When the UK is celebrating autumnal equinox in September, our friends in Australia are welcoming the return of spring in their vernal equinox.
Wherever you are in the world, equinoxes and solstices have been marked for millennia by different cultures and religions. The autumnal equinox is also associated strongly with apples as the symbol of life and immortality and it’s the time to celebrate reaping what you have sown.
Whichever culture you are from, the autumnal equinox is a time of harvests, celebrations and giving thanks for the abundance of nature. So here are 10 easy-to-implement ideas to help you mark this important time in your own setting.
- Make a sun and moon mobile
Since the equinox marks a time of equal daylight and darkness, have fun making a mobile which has an equal amount of suns and moons on it. You can also add the earth, stars or even some galaxies or planets as a reminder of the astrological basis of the equinox.
- Go outside and investigate the changes in the leaves
The trees are wonderful in September and it’s a perfect opportunity to get out into nature at a local park or in your own outside space. You can have great fun exploring the natural elements, kicking through leaves, looking at their different shapes and colours or even try a spot of leaf rubbing.
- Make a giant tree picture
This is a seasonal way to decorate your space as well as being creative. You can either use a branch, secure it in a plant pot and then decorate it with ‘leaves’ that the children make, or create a giant tree mural. Use handprints for the ‘leaves’ and remember to use autumnal colours such as reds, oranges, yellows and browns. You could also add images of fruit to represent the harvest by cutting apples in half and making apple prints.
- Create a piece of wild art
Collect some leaves, twigs, acorns and conkers, or whatever you can find in your local park or garden space and use them to create some autumnal pictures. You can use the theme of autumn to create a tree or landscape image, or why not create a picture of a woodland fairy of elf? You can also leave the art in situ for others to enjoy but take a camera to record the pictures for your space too.
- Celebrate with a harvest festival
Communities across the northern hemisphere give thanks for their harvests in September. You could ask parents to donate one small item and then make hampers to give to local people in need, as a way of saying ‘thank you’ for the abundance you have, as well as giving something back to your community.
- Have an equinox-themed dressing-up day
Everyone loves dressing-up. Encourage your pre-schoolers to dress up as something associated with the equinox on the day itself. Ideas include:
- Apple Trees
- Green Man
- Autumn Elves or Fairies
An alternative is to make headdresses, masks or banners and have a procession around your space.
- Sing songs about the changes in the seasons
How about singing a version of “London Bridge” using the words “All the leaves are falling down” or something similar? You could create some physical actions to accompany the words too and invent some new verses such as “Raking leaves is so much fun” or “Pick the apples one by one”.
- Plant some spring bulbs
Whilst the autumn equinox marks the end of summer, it also represents the circle of life – summer dies and winter sets in, but in spring, life will start again. Autumn is the perfect time to plant spring bulbs that will grow in the new year, heralding the start of the next growing season.
- Play a simple counting game based on ‘equals’
Set up areas of the room that represent daylight and night time. Ask the children to dance to music and when it stops, they must run to either ‘day’ or ‘night’ but there must be the same number of children on each side. If you have an odd number, ask one child to stop the music each turn.
- Build a ‘bug hotel’
Autumn is when many animals and insects begin their hibernation processes, storing food or finding a winter home. With natural habitats in decline, you could help our insect friends by creating your own bug hotel. Use sticks, twigs, straw and hollow bamboo canes so that hibernating bees and other insects can find shelter in winter months.