Autumn has arrived, and the trees are ready to put on their annual show. From maple to ash, oak, beech, poplar, birch, and hickory – the landscape is about to become draped in vibrant hues of red, yellow, and orange. “Leaf peepers” will hit the road in search of the blazing colors of fall foliage. Bushels of memories will be created. Rekindle a few from yesteryear with your group of older adults. The activities suggested below will give you some fresh ideas to get started.
- Set the Mood: Decorate the meeting room with natural and artificial fall leaves – garlands and wreaths. Assemble a bowl of small pumpkins/gourds, apples, wheat, leaves, acorns/nuts, and corn. Display colorful autumn tree photography, taken locally. Name the kinds of trees in the pictures. Discuss why leaves change color.
- Reminsce: Display props such as a rake, bushel basket, tarp, old sweatshirt. Pass around photos of a family raking leaves or kids jumping in a pile of leaves. Encourage a group member to tell a funny story based on the photos. (Add the family dog and a gust of wind to the tale.) Ask: Did you have trees in your backyard? What kind? What fall leaf colors do you remember? What did you do with the fallen leaves – rake/compost, burn, mulch? Did your kids love playing in the leaves? What other fall cleanup chores did you do?
- Reminisce: Show objects related to the autumnal season, and ask participants to share a favorite fall memory or activity: firewood, football, scarecrow, acorns/nuts, jar of apple butter, hay or straw, rake, corn husks, grapes, cutout of harvest moon, pumpkins, and sunflowers. Enjoy leaf-shaped sugar cookies and apple cider.
- Reminsce: Watch a travel video of fall foliage and talk about the “leaf-peeping” season in the Northeast. Reminisce about favorite destinations and scenic drives. Ask: Have you ever taken a guided bus tour of fall foliage? Where did you go? Did you ever enjoy spectacular fall scenery on a train ride or river cruise? Tell us about hopping in the family car and driving the back roads to enjoy the changing colors. Have you ever hiked in the woods on a crisp, cool autumn day? What other outdoor activities do you enjoy in the fall?
- Reminsce: On a large U.S. map, locate some mountainous national/state parks that are popular fall destinations for “leaf lookers” – Acadia National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Adirondacks, Appalachians, Great Smoky Mountains. Talk about sightings of wildlife and migrating birds/geese in the fall. Show pictures of some wildlife (ex: bears, wolves, moose, elk, wild turkeys, coyotes, foxes), and ask your group to identify them. Ask: Did you ever have a sudden encounter with a wild animal while camping or hiking? How did you react? What kind of wildlife have you seen in your backyard? Which wild animal is the most fascinating to watch?
- Activity: Take your group outdoors to enjoy the fall foliage. (Take along a pair of binoculars for close-ups of leaves.) Gather participants around a colorful tree and take some group photos. Write captions for the photos.
- Activity: Read excerpts from Henry David Thoreau’s 1862 essay titled Autumnal Tints. Ask the group to listen for the following line: “October is the month of painted leaves.” Paint paper leaves in watercolor.
- Activity: Show a photo of a stately oak tree with leaves and acorns. Share fun facts about the oak tree. Talk about the meaning of the old proverb “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” Make a dried acorn wreath to hang. Add some fall leaves for color.
- Craft: Make fall leaves from calico fabric and raffia. (For detailed instructions, see the ElderSong resource Crafts Through the Year, a featured product for October.) Other ideas: Make leaf rubbings or preserve colorful leaves between two sheets of wax paper using an iron on low setting.
- Craft: Distribute copies of magazines with colorful fall foliage – Yankee, Southern Living, National Geographic – and cut out red, orange, gold, and bronze images to assemble a collage titled “Mother Nature’s Autumn Palette.”
- Music: Listen to autumn songs: “Autumn Leaves,” “September Song,” “Autumn Serenade,” “Shine On, Harvest Moon,” “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” “Autumn in New York.”
- Sensory: Play some soft background music. Ask for a volunteer to describe a walk in the autumn woods on an Indian summer day. What would he/she smell, hear, and see? Place some “natural” items from the woods in individual paper bags. (Examples: leaves, tree bark, pine cone, maple seed, acorns, nuts, wild apples, pine branch/needles, twigs, old bird’s nest, seeds, berries, vines, rocks) Ask participants (with eyes closed) to identify the objects by texture.
- Food: Name trees with falling nuts. Ask participants if they remember spending time in the woods gathering hickory nuts and walnuts with their grandparents during the fall months. Share a favorite family recipe using nuts (ex: hickory nut cake with caramel icing). Identify various kinds of nuts: walnuts, chestnuts, hickory nuts, beechnuts, butternuts, pecans. Talk about the meaning of these idioms: in a nut shell, hard nut to crack, drives me nuts, nuts and bolts.
- Poetry: Read some seasonal poetry – both playful and pensive. Suggestions: “October’s Party” and “Come Little Leaves” by George Cooper; “Autumn Woods” by William Cullen Bryant; “Gathering Leaves,” “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” and “October” by Robert Frost. Talk about favorite images in the poems.
- Poetry: Ask participants to write a short poem titled “The Tumbling Leaf.” Describe, in poetic terms, what happens when a brilliant red maple leaf hanging on a tree gets hit by a gust of wind and finally comes to rest on the ground. (Use action words such as swirl, dance, float, skip.) Read the poems aloud.
TREES TRIVIA QUIZ
- What is a sapling? A young tree
- What is the name of an expert on growing trees? Arborist
- What is an indication of the age of a tree? Tree rings
- According to the song, what color of ribbon should you tie around the old oak tree? Yellow
- What kind of tree loses its leaves each fall? Deciduous
- Explain the following idiom: You are barking up the wrong tree. You’re making the wrong choice, looking in the wrong place, or pursing the wrong action.
- Name some common types of maple trees. Silver, red, sugar
- What is the tallest tree in America? Redwood in CA
- What pigment decreases in leaves in the fall, causing them to turn color? Chlorophyll
- Cedars, firs, pines, and spruces are what type of tree? Coniferous (evergreen)
THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH
“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
“AUTUMN LEAVES” written by Sue Hansen. © 2012 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
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