Ten Ways for Kids and Families to Enjoy Autumn Outside
by Katie Beltramo
At our house, something happens in the fall. As the days get cooler, children migrate inside. Even on sunny days, my daughters burrow into our basement playroom as instinctively as squirrels gather nuts. It makes me crazy, especially since kids who play outside are healthier, happier, and do better in school. Luckily, there are plenty of activities beyond jumping into a leaf pile that will lure kids outside to enjoy the great outdoors.
Build a campfire in the evening.
Being outside after dark is magical, and with sunset arriving earlier each day, you won't have to stay up past bedtime like you would have during the summer. Roast marshmallows, tell stories, or just bask in the cozy warmth on a cool night.
Go letterboxing or geocaching.
Kids love a treasure hunt, and both activities will give you a workout for body and brains. Letterboxing involves landmark-based clues that lead to a unique, often hand-made stamp, while geocaching focuses on using a compass or GPS to find a hidden cache. Check letterboxing.org, atlasquest.com, or geocaching.com for more information.
Walk or bike to school.
Studies show that kids who walk to school cope with stress better, and built-in daily activity is great for the whole family. Join with neighbors and adults can take turns chaperoning if you're concerned about kids on their own. If the route between home and school is not safe, consider dropping kids at a nearby walk-friendly location.
Observe creatures around you as they prepare for winter.
Take young naturalists outside with binoculars and a clipboard to observe birds, squirrels, or other animals. Experiment by leaving out foods, observe how and where animals move, draw pictures, and look for characteristics to distinguish individuals from each other. Find great tips from handbookofnaturestudy.blogspot.com or check out books on your quarry from the library.
Let kids loose in the garden.
Autumn is time for garden pruning, and it's difficult to do too much damage to plants at this stage. You can teach kids to use pruning shears properly and assign them a task, or have them help you gather gorgeous plants like hydrangea and let them dry naturally to bring the outdoors inside during the winter. Harvesting seeds will teach kids about nature and the seasons.
It's a classic for a reason. Looking for a great orchard? Ask if cider and donuts are made on-site, what sort of spraying policy is in place (fully organic orchards are fairly rare), and if there are additional activities for the kids. Our family loves a local orchard that allows visitors to climb their ladders. If you don't know of an orchard near you, check pickyourown.org for help.
Go on a playground tour.
School playgrounds are often spruced up for the new academic year, so this is a perfect opportunity to try fresh destinations. Make a list of places to visit. You can even rank the playgrounds or ponder awards in different categories, like Best Climbing or Fastest Slide.
Document the changing landscape.
Take photographs and draw pictures of any local natural landscape, whether it's your favorite hiking spot or your front lawn. Come back to the same spot every week to observe and document the changes. Kids can even make a seasonal landscape scrapbook or write a picture book based on the changing setting.
Enjoy fall sports.
Even if you're child isn't registered to play, take in a game and root for your neighbors or your local high school. It's a great community builder, and the older role models might inspire your kids to try something new. Grab a playground ball and teach kids classic games like 4-square.
Build a fort or fairy house.
With a little push of inspiration, you'll be surprised how engrossed kids get. As they build, kids learn creativity, engineering, and negotiating skills with their fellow builders. Find a spot with plenty of raw materials, and if you need ideas to get you started, check out fairyhouses.com or search on Pinterest for images.
Finally, all of these activities are great ways to start outdoor play, but if your kids get excited about playing something else outside, step back. By guiding your kids outdoors, you've already taken the first step to happier, healthier kids. Give them space to play independently, and you'll be amazed by what they come up with next.
© 2013, Katie Beltramo