As you might already know, I'm an advocate for nature-based activities. Nature gives our bodies many things we are lacking in our usual day-to-day routines-- vitamin D, fresh air, immune-building microbes from the soil, exercise, relaxation, a sensory rich environment, places to explore, and so much more. I am so passionate about the benefits of nature that I even wrote a book about nature based activities for youth. You can see the book here.
Autumn is a wonderful time of year to get outdoors and enjoy the unique opportunities that the season offers. It's also the perfect time to gather natural materials for crafts and projects you might need or want year round. Sticks, acorns, acorn caps, seed pods, flowers for pressing and drying, pine cones, and more are abundant this time of year.
Here are some of my favorite autumn activities:
1. Head out to the back deck, the front lawn, or even the front steps for a breakfast picnic. If you're feeling more adventurous and/or your family will cooperate, then venture out to the woods or a favorite trail for your breakfast picnic. Bring autumn-themed breakfast treats such as apple cider donuts, cider, trail mix, cranberry scones, or hot chocolate. Enjoy the chill in the air and enjoy a yummy breakfast with loved ones.
2. Go on a foliage drive-- make sure to stop along the way to explore. You can always do an online search before you go to see if there are any of these creative activities to do along the way such as letter boxing, geocaching, local labyrinths to walk, or apple orchards and/or pumpkin farms to visit.
3. Create some "land art"-- this time of year is great for land art because there are so many natural materials around to create with. In addition, at least here in the Northeast, the mosquitos and black flies have significantly reduced -- still use protection against ticks, though!
4. Gather acorns for your local wildlife rehabilitation center or collect them for future craft projects.
5. Rake those leaves and jump in them.
6. Go on a mushroom hunt. The woods are full of gorgeous and unique fungi that are usually hidden under leaves or peaking out from rotting logs. A mushroom hunt is a "look don't touch" activity for kids, but they might still find appeal in the "scavenger hunt" feel of this activity. You can challenge kids to find a certain number of different colored mushrooms; find mushrooms in each color of the rainbow, or as close as possible; or to photograph them if they have iPhones or are old enough to use yours or a camera. Bring a mushroom guide, if desired, for identifying the mushrooms you find.
7. Pick apples at an organic orchard and then make your favorite apple recipe with them. Orchards are great places for kids to explore different varieties of apples, especially if heirloom apples are present. Picking apples is a joy in an of itself, but many orchards also offer additional activities at their farms. Research your local orchards to see what is available to you.
8. Track down some snapdragon seed pods. Did you grow snapdragons in your garden this year? If you did, you will find these odd looking seed pods left behind that look like skulls or witches heads. If you did not grow snapdragons this year, ask around and see if you have any friends that did. If they have not pulled out their gardens yet, these Halloween-ish pods will still be there just waiting for someone to collect them.
9. Pick pumpkins-- there are so many fun projects to do with pumpkins, from roasting the seeds and making pies, to carving them into jack-o-lanterns, coaches, fairy houses, and more. Remember, if you ever feel at a loss of ideas, the internet is your friend.
10. Collect acorn caps for making these sweet little nature dolls. Buy the wooden figurines from your craft store, color them with colored pencils, glue a cap on, and then seal the doll with varnish.
11. Go mining! Research places to explore in your local area where you and the kids can go mining. I love this activity in the fall because its much cooler (in temperature), the foliage is gorgeous to view along the way, and mosquitos and black flies are at a minimum. My favorite spot for mining in Maine is Mount Apatite in Auburn because there is no cost and no tour--you can go on your own time and collect some beautiful gems. Bring a bag or a bucket, a hammer, and goggles for each person. Smashing rocks is both exciting and therapeutic for kids (and adults, too)-- the thrill of finding a gemstone is priceless, and you get out tons of energy doing so. Of course, experienced miners will not recommend "smashing" rocks as some gemstones are more fragile than others. So, if you are interested in mining you will want to research where you can do so in your area, what the rules are of the place you are visiting, as well as any tips for appropriately "smashing"/mining your finds.
12. Leave positive words and "secret messages" along any trails or places outdoors you explore. This is another variation of land art, and it's an easy one for kids to do. Gather some natural materials and put them together to spell a word or message of encouragement for others to find.
13. Host a picnic for your backyard animals. Set up a tray, table, or blanket in your yard; add a tea set, cups, and/or bowls; then fill them with seeds, nuts, or other foods appropriate for an animal's diet. This is pre-hibernation time for many of our backyard friends so this is a wonderful time to help them stock up on extra food. Taking and sharing photos of them enjoying their treats is my favorite part of this activity.
14. If you happen to live near an apple tree, or visit a place that has one, there are usually tons of apples on the ground. Gather a bunch of them, wash them, and then have the kids bite silly faces into the apples. Prop them up in the tree branches for a tree filled with silly faces.
15. Use acorn caps as hats for finger puppets.
16. Grab some chalk and head out to the nearest blacktop to create patterns, pictures, and other creative creations. Again, the weather is perfect this time of year for any sort of outdoor play (expect maybe swimming...).
Bonnie Thomas, LCSW
Indigo North Counseling, LLC