A sense of adventure? Exploring a corn maze is perfect for young kids!Photo Credit : Jim Salge
In looking ahead to this fall with my young family, I find myself struggling to think about what might captivate — or even briefly hold the attention of — a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. Revisiting old ideas (and even so many of my past foliage blogs here), I found a lot of fun things to do that were, alas, inherently bad suggestions for young families. Leaf peeping on a long car ride? Boring and exhausting. A steep sunrise hike to a mountain overlook? Not likely. Disrupt the afternoon nap schedule? Just not an option.
I talked to a number of other parents about their favorite things to do that could help instill a love of this beautiful season in kids.
The best advice I received over and over again? Simple: Start small!
From there, I broke down the ideas that I received into three main categories: drives, hikes, and family fun.
The tradition of the fall road trip is definitely a challenge when you have young children. The novelty of pretty leaves fades quickly for kids if all they are doing is sitting strapped into a car seat. To bring some excitement to the experience, try these tips:
Keep the Trips Short
Especially if you’re just on a weekend getaway, the actual leaf-peeping drive should be brief. As parents, you know kids’ attention span in the car — it’s best to plan short routes with few quick stops and pullovers.
Have an Exciting Destination
It’s important to combine leaf peeping with a place that kids will look forward to visiting. Some of our favorites:
Play Fall-Themed Car Games
My kids cannot get enough of I Spy, and colors and other options for this game abound in the fall. They’re also entertained by contests, such as who can find the reddest tree. And for parents who come prepared, autumn-themed car bingo boards and stamps are tons of fun.
Give the Kids a Map
With GPS and smartphones, paper maps are fast becoming relics for most of us — but they can be great for amusing children. For older kids, you can highlight a route in an atlas or gazetteer. For younger kids, you can hand-draw a special map with pictures of big landmarks like lakes, mountains, and shops along the way.
Did someone say ice cream?!
The idea of leisurely walks in the woods of New England began in the time of transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau, and in some ways it predates the concept of outdoor recreation itself. Hiking has remained a mainstay of family traditions ever since, especially in the fall. An emphasis on preparation and safety is key, however. Here are our top tips:
Keep the Hikes Short
If kids haven’t hiked before, even a mile can be a long walk. Find short, popular hikes with modest elevation gain.
Have a Fun Destination
Ponds, waterfalls, and overlooks are popular destinations for all ages. And maybe you show the kids a picture of where you’re going, to pique their interest … or maybe you keep it a surprise!
Bring a Nature Guide
Identifying types of leaves on the forest floor, flowers in a field, or frogs in the pond will bring a learning challenge to the adventure.
Plan a Scavenger Hunt
There are so many things to be seen in the forest: pine cones, acorns, leaves in every color, flowers, mushrooms, birds, butterflies, bugs, and more. Offer prizes for finding some or all of the things on the list.
Schedule Visits from the Treat Fairy
When the enthusiasm on the trail inevitably wanes, it’s good to have some pick-me-ups at the ready. A few chocolate chips, mints, Skittles, or Starbursts can make all the difference when things are moving slow.
Hike safe! Bring warm clothing, a compass, map, water, and other hiking essentials — and don’t forget sunscreen and bug spray!
Not all fall activities require travel or time away to instill a love of this beautiful season. There are many things you can do near home as well as on a weekend getaway. Some of our favorite ideas include:
Bring some crayons, a clipboard, and some paper into the woods to make some colorful autumn art: Just put the leaves between the paper and the clipboard and rub away with a crayon.
Everything Baseball / Everything Golf
Bring a Wiffle bat or golf club into the woods, and take a swing at autumn’s bounty. Apples, acorns, hickory nuts, pine cones — anything can be a ball.
Shaped Leaf Piles
Raking leaves isn’t fun, but making creative shapes out of them can be. Grab a great picture of your kids jumping into a pile shaped like their initials or ages.
Cooking and Baking
Pumpkin pies, apple crisps, cider doughnuts, squash soup — make some memories tied to the tastes and smells of treats like these. It’s even better if you pair them with a trip to the farmers’ market, orchard, or pumpkin patch.
What kid wouldn’t love this close-to-home adventure in the cool autumn air!
There were a few more activities that we think fit in nicely with the ideas and opportunities in this article.
Find Adventure with Friends
My kids are much more willing to explore and try new things if they’re with other kids the same age. And there is a unique camaraderie among parents of young children that makes the activities fun for all ages.
Give the Kids Cameras
Give children a camera to take pictures of their adventures. Maybe you have an old cellphone or digital camera lying around; if not, it’s probably not hard to find one among your friends and family. Allowing kids to record their experiences through their own eyes can be a wonderful thing.
At NewEngland.com, we will continue to track when the leaves are turning and offer lots of resources to help you plan your adventures as the season progresses. We’re excited to spot more changes in the landscape, and we can’t wait to see you out there!