Mathematics

Weighing up Autumn produce – a seasonal activity for preschoolers

As the English seasons roll around, the pumpkins and squashes are piling up in the supermarkets, and the conkers and acorns are falling from the trees. Although I’ll dearly miss the longer days of summer sun, autumn is a season that always brings special experiences to our family. 

From the Harvest Festival to Halloween, Autumn offers great opportunities to observe changes in nature, and take that learning experience indoors for creative activities such as leaf painting and pumpkin papercraft

But the possibilities don’t end there. In previous blogs, I’ve noted that you can promote early numeracy using conkers and pumpkins, and today I’m going to look at another way in which seasonal spoils can be used to help build some fun foundations for mathematical knowledge.

Given that conkers and pumpkins retain a lasting attraction for children, this is a great autumn activity – because it can involve both!

A large amount of seasonal produce if shown – pumpkins, conkers, acorns, potatoes and apples. Along with a toy Halloween pumpkin
Conkers, pumpkins and Halloween – there are plenty of reasons for children to enjoy the Autumn!

A weighty topic

Daisy is beginning to understand how we use measuring instruments such as weighing scales. She likes to help weigh out ingredients for baking and she is fascinated by my bathroom scales and weighs herself at some point during every visit!

Daisy’s curiosity about, and confidence in, these activities is to be expected; at the age of four Daisy can sort items by colour and size and is now practising and developing the skills to be able to put two items in order, by weight, length or capacity.

At school, at age five, children will be encouraged to use everyday language to talk about size and weight, as well as exploring the characteristics of everyday objects and shapes, and using mathematical language to describe them. 

These are the skills we’ll be targeting in this easy autumnal activity, which involves making comparisons using conkers and seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Setting up

Other than the collection of conkers, fruits and vegetables, and a set of weighing scales, this activity only requires a level surface for the scales; you could even take it outside, providing the unreliable autumn weather allows it! 

If there’s space, add a pencil and paper as some children like to have a reason to practice their writing and they can record their ‘findings’.

If you use a pumpkin for this activity, it’s best to use one of the mini pumpkins that have become widely available in recent years. If you only have a couple of potatoes or cooking apples to hand, you can still do this activity, making a comparison and putting them in order using weight. 

Step 1: Shape and feel

I like to start by talking about what fruits and vegetables I have selected, encouraging Daisy to handle them and talk about how each one feels. This is an opportunity to introduce the language we use to describe weights and shapes, and to ask Daisy which items she thinks are big or small, light or heavy, long or short.

Step 2: weigh an item of fruit or veg

Together select a mini pumpkin, squash, apple or carrot and then weigh it by putting it onto the scales and checking the number on the display. Next, copy that number onto a piece of paper together.

A mini pumpkin on a set of weighing scales

Step 3: weigh the conkers

Next, empty the scale dish and then count some conkers into it, to see how many are required for the display to show the same number as for the previous item – or as close to that number as you can get. Record how many conkers you had to use to do this.

A collection of conkers on a set of weighing scales

Step 4: try a new item

Empty the weighing scale dish and repeat this process, starting again with a different fruit or vegetable. See how many conkers you need to use, to get the same weight.

Step 5: compare the conker count

Have a look at the totals and see which item weighed the most in terms of conkers, and which weighed the least! 

A list showing the weight of various items – a mini pumpkin, apple and potato – in comparative terms of how many conkers they are equal too.

Daisy has developed her number and quantity awareness in recent months, and intuitively knows that 10 conkers are more than eight conkers – if your child or grandchild is at a similar point, then they may take a lot of pleasure in finding the answers.

These activities can then be repeated with any seasonal fruits and vegetables – satsumas, potatoes, parsnips, whatever you have available – to enable a child to make comparisons between two or more items of different shapes, sizes and weights. 

Granny Smith says

  • The fundamentals of this weighing activity easily transfer to baking with young children. But if that’s a daunting prospect, you can do weighing activities with some of their smaller toys and use construction bricks in place of conkers to compare sizes and weights of toys.
  • The next stage can be as varied as the items you have available. You want to encourage the children to make comparisons, and even start to learn to make their own estimates!
A set of digital weighing scales, with the scale basket filled with large and small pumpkins, conkers, acrons, apples and a potato

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