At the autumnal equinox, which occurs around September 22 each year in the Northern Hemisphere, day and night are of roughly equal lengths. The equinox marks the beginning of the season of autumn, which lasts until the winter solstice in December. After the equinox, the nights get longer and the temperatures get colder. The leaves of deciduous trees turn brilliant colors -- and then fall to the ground. It's the season of fall harvest, with apples, pumpkins, grapes, nuts, grains, corn and berries in abundance. Celebrate the season with children and teach them about the rhythms of the year with harvest celebrations and crafts.
Take a Nature Walk
Take a hike through a park with your child and observe the trees as they prepare to shed their leaves, the plants going to seed and the animals as they either prepare their winter dens or migrate to warmer climates. If you live in California, you might be able to visit the sites where monarch butterflies gather in huge hanging clusters to spend the winter. Elsewhere, you might observe geese flying south in "V" formation, or simply spend an afternoon watching squirrels gathering nuts. If your child is old enough to operate a camera -- and these days there are plenty of sturdy digital cameras designed with kids in mind -- definitely take one along.
While on your nature walk, you and your child can collect items to use in an art project once you get back home. Look for pinecones, seeds, seedpods, nuts, acorns and of course, plenty of colorful leaves. Back at home, pull out card stock or construction paper in autumn hues of orange, brown or red. Provide some white glue and let your child assemble an autumn-themed collage. You can also add additional autumn-themed materials such as sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, popcorn (popped or unpopped), tissue paper and fabric scraps in fall colors, and feathers of any sort.
Autumn Food Activities
Autumn is harvest and preservation time, a season for both feasting and preparing for winter. The autumn equinox is a fine time to take up the arts of home preservation and canning -- and to teach them to your children. You'll want to handle the tricky steps such as the boiling water bath, but your child can help with preparing the fruits or vegetables and filling the jars. Try some homemade tomato sauce or a batch of raspberry jam or apple butter. If you'd prefer a food activity where you can taste your creations right away, the autumn equinox is also a good time to make popcorn and popcorn balls, baked apples and applesauce, gingerbread, pies and fruit crisps.
Johnny Appleseed's birthday is September 26, and it might be both educational and entertaining to combine this event with autumnal equinox celebrations. Older children could make apple dolls, a traditional American folk craft. Younger children might enjoy making prints on paper with a halved apple and non-toxic tempera paint. Halve apples both vertically and horizontally for variety; the horizontal cut will expose the seeds in a pretty five-pointed star pattern. This is also a fine time to visit a cider mill if there is one in your area.
Books for the Autumn Equinox
As the days get colder, sitting indoors with a good book and perhaps a cup of warm apple cider mulled with cinnamon and other spices can sound more and more appealing. Young children will appreciate picture books such as "A is for Autumn" by Robert Maass, "How Do You Know It's Fall?" by Allan Fowler and "The Autumn Equinox" by Ellen Jackson. Older children are ready for scientific discussions of hibernation and photosynthesis, so try, "Why Do Leaves Change Colors?" by Sylvia A. Johnson and "Hibernation" by Robin Nelson.