Fall Sort and Paint Activity – Busy Toddler

Fall Sort and Paint Activity - Busy Toddler


Introducing a magically, multi-step toddler activity using the supplies you have around the house. This fall sort and paint activity is the perfect combination of nature, math, and art. Plus, it’s a perfect way to make it to nap time.

Pin image for "easy fall idea: sort and paint:" top image is a child picking up a leaf to sort. Bottom image shows the child painting the nature items.

What is a fall sort and paint activity?

The fall sort and paint activity began as most of my bright ideas do: trying to keep the clock from ticking backwards and doing everything I could to make the day move forward with an infant and a toddler attached to me.

It was a dreary fall day, and I needed something (desperately) to anchor our day. The idea of this multi-step fall activity popped into my head.

  • Let’s go outside and find “fall specific” items.
  • We can bring them inside to inspect them
  • We’ll sort them into groups
  • Then paint what we’ve found

Yes, this is how my mind works. And yes, those are all the steps of this activity. Remember: the goal is passing the time… and providing a rich experience for my toddler (but mostly it was about passing time).

RELATED: Looking for more easy fall activities? Try my fantastic list!

A tray filled with fall outdoor items. Four bowls are around the tray with tongs in the middle.

The Materials

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  • Outside items: Whatever you can find in your yard or park
  • Tray: These are similar to what I used here and we love them
  • Bowls: Random bowls I own
  • Plastic tongs: We cannot live without these
  • Washable paint

Step one: Take a nature walk to find materials

My toddler, baby, and I headed out on a walk. We brought bags with us to collect “evidence of fall” and other items from outside. As my toddler grabbed items for his bag, I made sure to collect specific items we could sort later like rocks, pine cones, and two very specific kinds of leaves.

The items my son collected would be his treasures.

The items I collected would be used for our sorting activity.

Having space, time, and freedom to really inspect the outdoors and nature is critical in early childhood. While it may seem simple to take a walk outside and collect treasures, this is actually a massively important moment (and a moment to have as often as possible).

A toddler using two hands to hold tongs to pick up fall nature items like pine cones and leaves to sort into bowls.

How to create a fall sorting activity

Once we were back home, I poured out the items I had found.

I set the items in the tray, put plastic tongs with them, and empty bowls around the outside. I chose tongs to give an extra bonus of fine motor practice for this activity, but that is optional. If you have tongs, great! If not, it isn’t going to break the activity to use fingers.

My sons goal: Sort the similar items into groups.

I love sorting activities for toddlers. This is a math skill and a great one for toddlers to practice in their early years. In this activity, my son is analyzing and observing items for similarities and differences.

Tip: Based on your child’s understanding of fall and sorting, consider the items you select from outside. Four leaf times would be much harder to sort than four different items, like I chose.

After my child finished, I set the sorted bowls off to the side… we’d use them again later in the day.

A cookie sheet is lined with white paper. A toddler is putting blue paint onto a leave. Paint and other nature items are off to the side.

Setting up the painting portion

Later in the day, we reached for our sorted bowls and grabbed our paint. It was time for the next part of our activity: Painting the sorted items.

I pulled out our handy jars of paint – I keep a few squirts of paint in baby food jars. This keeps it fresh and I don’t have to squirt out paint every time we do art (it’s one of my favorite tips for art with kids).

Tip: I lined the inside of a rimmed cookie sheet with butcher paper. That way nothing could roll away and I’m so glad I did that.

A child holds a rock steady as he adds read paint. Painted pine cones and leaves are on the paper in front of him.

I set the bowls of sorted goodies next to my son and off he went.

For a kid who is rarely jazzed about art projects, he LOVED this. He painted for close to 10 minutes which is HUGE for him as a two-year-old. He loved the textures and the challenge of painting on leaves, rocks, and pine cones.

We set everything to dry, and then eventually put it back outside where the fall rains rinsed it all clean.

Frequently Asked Questions

What age is the Fall Sort and Paint for?

This activity spans many years in early childhood. Remember, regardless of age, all children need to take walks, look for evidence of a new season, and have time to observe what they see/find. This activity will work for toddlers. It’ll also work for 7-year-olds.

How do you celebrate fall without deciduous trees?

If you live in an area without deciduous trees (trees whose leaves fall), focus and lean into books for the fall season. Help your child understand what autumn/fall mean through fall children’s books.

Do you save your children’s art?

Yes…and no. I save the important stuff: first picture of our family, a piece they worked exceedingly hard on, etc. I keep those in a large portfolio (tossed in haphazardly) for each child. The rest: we enjoy for a bit and then I recycle.

Susie Allison, M. Ed

Owner, Creator

Susie Allison is the creator of Busy Toddler and has more than 1.9 million followers on Instagram. A former teacher and early childhood education advocate, Susie’s parenting book “Busy Toddler’s Guide to Actual Parenting” is available on Amazon.


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