Throwing a Fall Festival at School

A pumpkin patch inside of a corn maze

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If you love Halloween, don't be disappointed if your child's school doesn't celebrate it because there are plenty of other fall festival ideas that can be planned. In an effort to be all-inclusive, many schools have moved from the tradition of celebrating Halloween to hosting a fall festival. More than just noting a holiday, these festivals celebrate a season—and take advantage of the educational opportunities it brings.

Full of delicious smells and tastes, autumn is a wonderful time of year and one of the seasons most recognized by young children because of the changing colors of leaves. Autumn offers opportunities to learn across the curriculum, from understanding the science of how a pumpkin grows to counting the number of apples ripening in a tree. There are many ideas for fall festival games and activities you can use, whether you’re a parent organizing a school harvest festival or a teacher who wants to do something fun on or around October 31.

Fall Festival Decor

There are, of course, some obvious decorations for a fall festival—pumpkins, scarecrows, hay bales, corn stalks, and anything orange, red, and yellow. However, you could also give the festival an Oktoberfest theme (minus the beer gardens, of course). Decorate with the traditional Oktoberfest colors of blue and white or the colors of the German flag (black, red, and yellow).

Fall Festival Activities

The success of a fall festival rests on how much fun the students have with autumnal activities. Consider these ideas:

  • Set up booths and stations where the kids can play fall harvest party games or carnival games for a school festival, and win prizes.
  • Play pumpkin-themed games with students.
  • Set up a straw bale maze, hold scarecrow-making contests, bob for apples, serve apple cider, host a pie-baking contest, offer face painting, organize a cakewalk, set up craft booths where kids can make fall crafts, and get everyone—including the parents and teachers—to compete in sack races.
  • If your child’s school has a garden, offer tours of it during your fall festival.
  • Host a wacky relay race. Set out grown-up clothes or an autumn-themed costume, such as a pumpkin or scarecrow, at the starting line. The first member of each relay team must put the clothes on over their regular outfit before running across a field, taking off the grown-up clothes, dressing up another team member in them, and then having that team member run back to the finish line (or repeat with another team member, depending on how many kids are participating).

Fall-Themed Lessons

If the fall festival is being held during the school day, you may want to incorporate educational opportunities as well.

  • For counting practice, fill up a wooden bucket with apples. Ask students to estimate the number in the bucket and then count the apples to find out how close the class was.
  • For budding botanists, bring various types of sunflowers into school and have the students study the plants' parts. Hold a contest where the students guess how many sunflower seeds each variety contains, then give prizes to the students with the closest answers.
  • Have teams of students estimate the number of seeds in a pumpkin, then cut the pumpkins open and let the kids count the seeds to find out how close they were. Use the seeds for other activities, such as gardening or putting seeds in birdfeeders for backyard birds.
  • Explore fractions by cutting a seasonal fruit or vegetable into thirds, quarters, eighths, etc., then teach the class about the significance of composting to dispose of the cuttings.
  • Give all costumes an educational theme by making it all about books and reading. Allow the students to wear costumes, but require them to dress up as their favorite storybook characters or characters from your current book selection.
  • Cut apples in half straight down the middle. Cut a groove on the rounded side of the apples so they’re easy to hold. Dip the flat side in ink or paint, then make apple prints on paper or fabric.
  • Learn about the autumn equinox, the harvest moon, and how other cultures celebrate its importance or garden according to moon phases.
  • Teach the days of the month, both in October and in November, by discussing the special days and unconventional holidays that make autumn unique. Even if you don't have a fall festival, autumn can be celebrated just about every day of the season. For example, October 1st is usually World Vegetarian Day so why not pair that day with a lesson about seasonal fruits and vegetables?

Fall Food Science in the Classroom

If your school doesn't encourage cooking or eating in the classroom, learning about fall's agricultural gifts and what fruits and vegetables are in season (besides apples and pumpkins) can still be a strong educational opportunity. There's a long list of fall fruits and vegetables, from grapes to pears and spinach to zucchini. Here are some ideas that can be incorporated into a school fall festival:

  • Encourage kids to bring home recipe packets with information on seasonal fruits and vegetables to experiment with healthy cooking.
  • Turn children into beginner gardeners by helping them create a small, quick growing seasonal herb container garden. Consider chives, cilantro, mint, parsley, rosemary, sage, or thyme.
  • Teach children about fall farming and gardening tasks and practices, the history of farming, and the importance of local sourcing for seasonal food. Having a local farmer come in and talk to the kids may even lead a child or two into a future career path.