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Fall Lanterns

Age: 3 to 8+ Time: 1 hour+
Materials: glass jar per child, glue, water, tissue paper
Skills: Naturalist, Fine Motor, Sensory, Self Esteem, Focus & Self Control, Creativity

Eight years ago, we stumbled on a lovely way to embrace the change so many of us feel as we turn the clocks back in fall— make lanterns to light up and welcome the first night of darkness.

If wildly different cultures share fall lantern-lighting festivals, from the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrated in China and Vietnam to Germany's St. Martin's Day festival, there must be some magic to the practice. Here's our perspective: the frustrating loss of daylight we used to rage against each time daylight saving time ended (aka “fall back”) is actually an incredible opportunity to stop and be mindful of the cycles of nature. It is also a chance to teach kids not to fight but to lean into change—habits of mind that will help them navigate life. And, what better way to construct a learning moment than to take children outdoors at night with a colorful lantern that they have made?

Even more so, this year has been heavy for all of us, and we all need a chance to stop and reflect on what has given us hope in the midst of such challenges and what hope we will bring into the winter and the new year to come. There has never been a more important time for rituals of connection and hope like the Lantern Walk.

The Guide

There's no shortage of ways to make lanterns. We really like this method and love doing it outside.

  1. Get an empty jar: Mason jars are ideal, but you can use any jar that has a screw-top lid. Grab enough for you and kids to make your own, side by side.
  2. Cut tissue paper pieces: Cut up sheets of tissue paper of various fall colors into small 1-2" pieces.
  3. Prepare glue mixture: Make a 1:1 ratio of water and school glue. Grab some paintbrushes too.
  4. Demonstrate how to apply tissue paper: Use a paintbrush to apply the glue/water mixture to a small portion of a glass jar. Then, pick a piece of tissue paper and press it on top of the gluey surface. Repeat until you’ve covered the jar.
  5. Layer in nature treasures: You can layer fallen leaves, flower petals and ferns between the layers of tissue paper, too.
  6. Let the kids do their making...and let them make a mess! The product should look like a little kid made it, and it will still look gorgeous all lit up! If kids need help, put your hand inside the jar and let them paint/apply tissue paper.
  7. Dry, then seal the lanterns: Let the lanterns dry for a day or two. [Optional] If you want them to last longer, apply a sealer like Mod Podge outdoor formula onto your child's lantern.
  8. Attach a string handle: If you have a mason jar, remove the center of the lid, leaving only the metal rim. Tie a knot around the lid on two opposite points (i.e. at 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock), then close the lid on the jar.
  9. Walk the walk: Find out how to enjoy a Fall Lantern Walk this year with your family, friends, neighbors or whole community! It's a most marvelous tradition and way to learn to embrace change!

Why is this activity great for kids?

In addition to helping your kids learn to embrace and even celebrate life's inevitable changes, this activity helps kids develop several critical skills.

As kids hold and use a paintbrush, pick up delicate tissue paper squares, and press the paper firmly but gently into place, they develop fine motor control in their hands. If you know that your child struggles with this, work “as a team” with him or her on the frustrating parts. Working with tricky materials like glue, tissue paper (especially outside in the fall breeze) and a round jar requires that kids attend to the task at hand. Plus, they have to resist the temptation of other pursuits and stay focused until the task is complete. Kids also have to pay close attention to their lanterns once lit, or they could easily blow out!

Provided you let kids do as much lantern decorating on their own as they can, their approach to lantern-making is also a window into who they are. Kids make their own choices about the colors, shapes and placement they use, expressing their tastes and sense of design. When a finished product feels to a child the true result and reflection of him or herself, then he or she develops a sense that "I am capable" and that "I am worthy." These are aspects of a positive self concept that kids will need to tackle academic and social challenges as well as to find and maintain happiness in life.

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