We always loved September and October when the kids were smaller. The weather was still fairly warm and sunny, and the local park was usually empty during the weekdays. Then, as the leaves began to change and drop, we still found ways to embrace Nature's bounty. These were some of our favorites:
- Collect the leaves. Even if you do nothing else with them beyond walking around and picking them up, you are giving your kids a chance at some gross motor and fine motor skill use. Gross motor is using big muscles, like your legs. Fine motor is small muscles, like your fingers.
- Press those leaves. I still find leaves from who knows how long ago in our big books and dictionaries.
- Use the leaves to make rubbings. Just place a piece of paper over the leaves, then rub with a crayon. Also fun to do on the bark of the tree. Use compare/contrast words like rough and smooth.
- Make leaf "stencils" onto dark construction paper with chalk. I found packages of black construction paper for a pretty reasonable price at my local teacher's store. Place your leaf on your dark paper, then rub over the whole paper with white or light colored chalk. Lift the leaf, and admire your stencil. Try this with other flat objects, too.
- Measure your leaves, and the trees they came from. Use a ruler for the leaves, and a string and yardstick for the tree trunk. See if you can guess how tall each tree is using a child as a unit of measuring. For example, "I think this tree is 4 Bubbas tall" or "Wow! That's a big one! I'll bet it's 4 Dads high!"
- Make leaf suncatchers. Cut a large rectangle from an old brown paper grocery bag, by cutting down one long edge, then removing the bottom. Cut 2 pieces of waxed paper big enough to cover each leaf and leave a little around the edges for a border. On your ironing board, lay the brown paper flat, then set one piece of waxed paper on the brown paper. Set your pressed leaf on the waxed paper, top with the other sheet of waxed paper, and fold the brown paper over the top of all, like a big leaf sandwich. Press with a hot iron for about 30 seconds, just to melt everything together. Allow to cool for about a minute, then carefully, peel back the brown paper. You can trim the edges using fun scissors, like scalloped or pinking shears. You can find these scissors for a very reasonable price in the scrapbooking section of your local craft store. Want to make it even more fun? Add crayon shavings over the leaf. Use a plastic knife and CAREFULLY scrape down the side of a crayon. Sprinkle the little bits on the leaf and/or empty waxed paper space. Melt as described above.
- Nature hikes - and LOTS of them! Here's your chance to take advantage of the beautiful weather, get some good exercise, fresh air and sunshine, and have a blast! Choose parks in your area that you usually don't visit. State parks are particularly fun, because they usually encompass very specific ecosystems. What a great opportunity to discuss those ecosystems, food chains, plant and tree identification, and bird/animal identification. And speaking of birds...
- Find out who migrates through your area, and put out bird feeders. Better yet, make some of your own with pine cones, peanut butter and bird seed. Grab a bird identification book, and learn TOGETHER with your kids how to use it. Learn some big vocabulary like migrate, flyway, adaptation, transient and resident, and many many more. Keep a bird journal to practice writing skills and observation skills.
- Plan your garden for next year, and lay it out. What a great math activity - measuring, calculating square feet for planting and cubic feet for filling the space with soil. And while you're at it...
- Start a Lasagna Garden bed. Read Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza WITH your kids, even if it's just looking at the diagrams and photos and reading the captions. Save your newspapers (and ask the neighbors to save theirs, too, if you need more), top them with lawn clippings and fallen leaves, and let them rot over the winter to create the garden space you planned together in number 6.
- And start a compost pile. Fill it with fallen leaves and those last minute lawn clippings to get a head start on some great plant food for next spring and summer.
- Rake leaves. Good exercise, fresh air and sunshine, and of course the best part - JUMPING INTO THE GREAT BIG PILES! Have leaf fights - throwing leaves back and forth at each other. Build leaf forts, or even a maze. Better yet, volunteer to rake for elderly and shut in folks you know who may not be able to do this for themselves.
- Star gaze. On a clear night, find some dark space, and just admire God's handiwork in the heavens. Learn the constellations TOGETHER. Read the Greek myths that correspond to each of those constellations. Find out how to tell which way is north, using just the stars. See if you can find the constellation for your horoscope sign. Then, learn about stars and all things cosmic.
- Find an apple orchard or pumpkin patch. Learn about why apples and pumpkins are so nutritious, then make some yummy healthy treats from the items you bring home. This is also a great opportunity to discuss and practice kitchen safety, and by all means, find a way to let the little ones help safely somehow. The more engaged they are, the more they'll learn, especially if they can eat the results!
- Come up with your own new family tradition. Create memories that will last a lifetime!
Embrace and enjoy this wonderful time of year!