Are you excited about fall? Cooler weather, changing colors, and leaves and seeds on the ground make for a great time to get outside and explore nature. Bring a little nature inside and set up a discovery table. Today I’m sharing five tools for your fall discovery table. These items will help your little scientists make observations and use real science tools in the process.

#1 – Sensory Tubes

Sensory Tubes are a fantastic way to let children observe things through sight and/or smell. They are especially handy for items that you don’t necessarily want the children to touch (sticky pine cones, for example). I added different nature items to the sensory tubes and then also placed items on the tray that can be touched and explored. The focus in this particular discovery table is comparing seeds and leaves. I chose a seed pod, leaves, pine cones, and pine needles.

Questions to ask:

  • What do you notice about the different leaves? (colors, shape, size)
  • What time of year do trees like sycamore and maple lose all of their leaves? (fall/autumn)
  • Pine cones and pine needles come from evergreen trees. They lose their needles a little at a time; not all at once. Compare the green pine needles to the brown ones. What do you think the difference is? (time – the green needles fell more recently than the brown needles, the brown needles are older/drier)


#2 – Magnifying Glass

Girl with Magnifying Glass

A magnifying glass is perfect for looking at objects more closely. Lay a magnifying glass next to a few nature objects and encourage your child to explore. Here I’ve used walnuts, bark, and pine cones.


Observations to make:

  • What do you notice about the different kinds of bark? (color, texture, etc.)
  • Look at the inside of the walnut. Compare it to the outside.
  • How is the small pine cone similar to the large pine cone? (look at the cone scales, or seed scales)



#3 – Tweezers

Tweezers are a tool worth using for multiple reasons. Your child can take things apart like these sycamore seeds to observe the insides more closely. (Combine the tweezers with the magnifying glass.) Tweezers also work on fine motor skills and hand strengthening. Encourage your child to pick things up with the tweezers. Move things from one side of the tray to the next.


#4 – Tape Measure or Ruler

Measuring Tape

Measuring is a science and math skill that is important to practice. Once you’ve taught your child how to properly use a ruler or tape measure, set them off to compare the sizes of different nature items. We used the tape measure and ruler from this Measurement Activity Set. The set also comes with measurement cards that have pictures of objects to measure. My kids love finding the objects on the card and then measuring them. It would also be fun to take the tape measure outside on your next nature walk. Measure the distance between trees or the length of a large rock. The possibilities are endless.

#5 – Balance

My favorite addition to the fall discovery table is a balance. We used the Buggy Balance ™ Measurement Activity Set. The set comes with caterpillars and leaves in different sizes and weights. I placed the leaves next to the balance and added in some nature items (pinecone, walnuts, acorns, etc.). Encourage your child to explore the balance. Talk to her about how the scale works. When the items on each side weighh the same, the balance will be in the middle. The heavier side will be lower than the lighter side.

Balance Beam


Questions to ask:

  • How many leaves will it take to balance a walnut?
  • Which is heavier: a pine cone or an acorn?
  • Which weighs less: a hickory nut or 3 orange leaves?


Final Tips for your Fall Discovery Table

Setting up a fall discovery table is great for a variety of age groups. The goal is to let children make observations and explore the nature items. It’s a good idea to show your child how to use the tools first and then let them explore freely. They can ask questions to you and learn more about the items through books or additional resources you provide.


What’s your favorite part about fall?