As the nights draw in, there’s plenty of cause for celebration. Dark skies are perfect for stargazing, scarecrow trails are an autumn staple, and The Great British Bake Off is an excellent excuse to get baking. While we still need some clever thinking and precise planning to make sure everyone’s safe, there’s no doubt that this season is set for fun galore.
Autumn craft evening
The beautiful colours of autumn are the perfect inspiration for children’s creativity. Run it as an after-school event, offering a selection of crafts for the children to enjoy. When choosing crafts, look at what materials you have available and what you can find outside: pinecone hedgehogs, leaf art, pebble painting and air dry clay pumpkins are all good options. Or plan it for later in the year and encourage the children to make Christmas gifts for their families. Charge a small fee to enter and include snacks and drinks to fuel pupil’s artistry without anyone needing to handle cash. For adults, try willow weaving as a pine needle-free alternative to wreath making. Find a local expert to run the event and guide attendees through the process.
Alternative: Package craft materials in paper bags and send them home with the children. Post a tutorial video online – either free or accessible with a small charge – for people to follow, and ask them to post photos on your social media.
Space and stargazing event
Celebrate World Space Week (4-10 October) with a space and stargazing event. Start the evening in your school hall, with a talk from an astronomy expert about observing the stars. If you don’t know of anyone local, contact the Federation of Astronomical Societies for help sourcing a speaker. Engage the audience with experiments, demonstrations and a space quiz. After sunset, head outside for the main event – stargazing. Ask guests to bring folding chairs and torches, plus telescopes and binoculars at their own risk. Add an extra activity, such as a space-themed treasure hunt, to engage fidgety little ones and provide entertainment in case of a cloudy sky.
Alternative: Encourage families to stargaze from home and share their discoveries on your social media page. Run a competition to create the best launchable rocket, with video entries of lift-off.
Hold a campout-style evening where families can gather around the bonfire. Wet parents’ whistles with beer from a local brewery and tempt them with a barbecue or hog roast – ensuring you have a vegetarian alternative – with ginger cake for pudding. Before sunset, hold friendly games, such as a football match or den-building competition. Run dream-catcher workshops or friendship bracelet making so there’s something for everyone. After dark, add music for a festival atmosphere. Keep it simple with a relaxed sing around the bonfire, or go all out by asking local acts to perform.
Alternative: Hold a virtual concert on Facebook by compiling video performances from local acts. Families can enjoy the music while they sit around their own bonfires and firepits. Sell food and drink that can be delivered beforehand.
Your whole community can enjoy a scarecrow trail. Once you’ve set a theme (try book characters, sustainable scarecrows, or even the adventures of your school hamster!), source scarecrow makers by leaving sign-up forms in local shops or posting on social media. The only outlay for the PTA is printing and advertising costs, plus any prizes. When you’ve found enough makers, create a map plotting the location of all the scarecrows. For an extra challenge, assign questions or clues to each display and ask visitors to work out the answer. Enter correct guesses into a prize draw.
Alternative: Share photos on social media for anyone who can’t visit the trail in person. They can vote for their favourites through ‘likes’. Run a scarecrow design competition, charging 50p for children to decorate a person-shaped outline, or challenge the children to write a story about the adventures of their favourite scarecrow. Award prizes for the most creative.
Halloween trick or treat trail
Ask children to dress up in spooky costumes – hold a second-hand sale in advance – for some detective work on the school field. Someone has been up to some naughty tricks, but can they work out who? Set up mini crime scenes where children can look for clues – think Elf on the Shelf pranks on a larger scale. Keep things simple for the little ones: the school rabbit has been misbehaving; can they follow the trail of nibbled carrots and pieces of hay? Older children can work out which teacher has confiscated all the treats by solving puzzles about the class or subject they teach. Once they’ve cracked the case, their reward is a disco in the school hall. Always check your school is comfortable with a Halloween celebration.
Alternative: Send out scavenger hunt sheets to complete at home, asking pupils to find yucky items, such as something slimy or hairy – give prizes for the most creative objects and the best costumes. Run a virtual disco as a reward.
Decorate your outside space with autumnal bunting and hire hay bales as seating. Serve hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows, and satisfy grown-up tastes with pumpkin-spiced lattes. Keep hunger pangs at bay with a barbecue, and serve toffee apples or marshmallows roasted on the firepit. Fence off any firepits, making sure there’s always an adult keeping an eye on them. Hold a pumpkin competition – pumpkins can be carved beforehand or on the day if you have plenty of volunteers. If you’re unsure about carving, children can draw on them with Sharpies or decorate hollowed-out pumpkins. Keep kids engaged with potato printing and conker painting if they have to wait for their turn. Set up a hay bale photo spot to capture memories.
Alternative: Hold an online pumpkin carving competition, where families send in photos of their entries. Invite them to leave the finished objects outside their homes and create a trail map for families to follow before they cast their votes, with a prize for the winner.
With The Great British Bake Off airing in the autumn and National Baking Week falling in October (14-19), it’s a prime opportunity for some batter-based battles. Choose a theme for your creative cake makers, which your current fundraising project could inspire. If you’re raising money for a library, how about literary bakes? For a playground, perhaps sporty sweets? Ask entrants to bring the bakes in for judging by your headteacher and sell portions with hot drinks after school.
Alternative: Run a recipe book fundraiser, asking families to bake their specialities and submit the recipe with a good-quality photo. Print using a specialist company such as Fundraising Cookbooks and sell to parents.
More reasons to celebrate
1-30 October – The Big Draw: Run an art exhibition yourselves or through a company such as Images
1-30 October – International School Library Month: Celebrate this precious resource with a sponsored readathon
7 October – National Poetry Day: Compile and sell a poetry anthology book, with contributions from pupils on a set theme
16 October – World Food Day: Host an international evening celebrating different dishes from the cultures in your community
7-12 October – National Curry Week: Hold a quiz and curry night in your school hall
14-19 October – Chocolate Week: Set a silver Smarties challenge ready for pupils to collect their earnings over half term
4-9 November – National Spa Week: A relaxing pamper evening is also an opportunity for some early Christmas shopping