Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sun and Moon Autumnal Equinox Activities for Montessori Students

girls with telescope autumnal fall equinox NAMC montessori activity ideas

The beginning of the school year for Montessori students also marks the passage of summer into fall. While we may miss the bright sunny days, autumn is a time of brilliant color, crisp air, and exciting happenings in nature. September 22 was the autumnal equinox— which is when we officially mark the changing of the seasons. The equinox marks the day that the sun shines directly over the equator, and day and night are almost exactly the same length, all over the planet!

Learning about the changing seasons and the movement of the earth are important parts of Montessori physical geography and science curriculum. Teaching students about the fascinating scientific causes of the equinoxes along with respect for these almost magical aspects of the natural world provides a full and balanced education. In many places around the world, autumn festivals are often centered around solar and lunar cycles; enjoy these sun and moon inspired fall activities that you can share with your Montessori students to celebrate the beginning of autumn!

Sun and Moon Autumnal Equinox Activities for Montessori Students

In Ireland, The Loughcrew Cairn is one of many historical megalithic structures that were built to interact with the sunlight. When the sun rises on the autumnal equinox, it lines up with the mouth of the cairn, travels down a long passage, and illuminates carvings on a stone tablet. The light travels over the surface from left to right over the course of the day, 'telling a story' by moving over the different pictures. Try replicating this phenomenon in the classroom with a shadow casting activity:

loughcrew cairn sunlight  autumnal fall equinox NAMC montessori activity ideas
What you need:
  • a shoe box
  • a flash light
  • drawing supplies
What you do:
  • Prepare your 'cairn' by carefully cutting a rectangle shape about 2 inches tall out of the center of the shoe box.
  • Have students draw a fall picture featuring many separate autumn items and activities, such as leaves, acorns, apples, school images, or sports like football.
  • Tape the picture to a wall, and place the shoe box lid with the lip facing upwards about four feet away on a desk. Use the lid to stabilize the shoe box and stand it up, with the bottom of the box facing the image.
  • Have the student stand behind the shoe box with the flashlight, and shine it into the box at the hole. The light will shine through the hole, creating a 'spotlight' on their picture. Each child can explore moving the angle of the light up and down, side to side, to highlight certain parts of their drawing.
In China, the mid-autumn festival is often known as the Moon Festival, and is celebrated with moon cakes and floating lanterns. For a practical life activity that recreates the lunar phases and can be enjoyed during your celebration, make your own moon cookies out of this simple sugar cookie recipe.

What you need:
  • A simple round cookie cutter and a plastic knife. You can also use the rim of a glass, or a small dish.
  • recipe for Easy Sugar Cookies
    • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1/3 teaspoon salt
    • 2 1/2 cups flour
1. Using an electric mixer at medium-high speed, cream the butter, gradually adding the sugar. Beat in the egg until evenly mixed, and then blend in the vanilla extract and salt.

2. With a wooden spoon, stir the flour into the creamed ingredients, about one third at a time, until evenly blended. The dough may seem soft, but it will firm up when refrigerated.

3. Divide the dough in half. Flatten each portion into a disk and seal in plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

4. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Between 2 sheets of waxed paper lightly dusted with flour, roll the Easy Sugar Cookie Dough to a 1/4-inch thickness. Remove the top sheet.

5. Cut out the cookies with cookie cutters. Use a spatula to transfer the shapes to the baking sheet, leaving about an inch between cookies.

6. Bake for 8-10 minutes and transfer to a rack to cool.

phases of the moon autumnal fall equinox NAMC montessori activity ideas

What you do:
  • You can prepare the dough ahead of time, or make this a two day activity. Print out a simple line drawing of the phases of the moon and laminate it so that it will survive being around the cookie cutting process. Aaron Keller has made an excellent chart that can be found here.
  • Using the round cutter, have the students cut as many round cookies as the dough will allow.
  • Continue using one half of the round cutter to create the crescent and gibbous shapes from the already cut circles. To create the first and last quarter, let students cut the circle in half with the plastic knife.
  • While they are cutting, encourage the children to refer to the chart to help them line up where to cut the shapes. Each half created by cutting the circle represents the lit portion of the moon during different phases. Discuss how making a crescent shape also creates the opposite gibbous shape.
  • When the cookies are finished baking and cooling, have the children find and recreate the lunar cycle with their cookie shapes.
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, September 25, 2012.


  1. This would be an awesome activity! Thanks for sharing.


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