Family Fall Fun

Ten easy ideas for close-to-home activities that celebrate the outdoors and autumn.

The lazy, lethargic days of summer are over. Take advantage of the shift in energy the cooler weather brings by heading out with the kids. You don't need to go to complicated lengths. Think close-by, casual, enjoyable. Think family fall fun.

Ten To-Dos this Fall

1. Take a hike. Wherever you live, nature is putting on a seasonal show. Sometimes sensational, sometimes subtle, there are changes afoot in the environment. Get out with binoculars and take the kids for a walk in a nearby park, or just an amble through the woods or open spaces on public property. Concentrate on all your senses and take in the changes that spell fall. If there's a writer in your group, make a journal of your trip. Consider picking up seeds, pods, leaves, rocks, fossils, and any interesting (and safe) "found" objects for making into art projects later -- whether it's stringing a fall necklace or making a bouquet of fallen leaves.

2. Help with the harvest. Fall is the season of bountiful harvest. So get your sweatshirt on and get out there and pick produce. Squash, pears, apples -- picking whatever's in season in your area and ready to be off the tree or vine is a blast. Lots of orchards and small farms let the public participate in their harvest. Is there a cider mill nearby? A trip to the apple orchard is a fall favorite. After picking and/or touring the orchard, you can usually sample cider for a true taste of fall. Take your bushel baskets home and get creative. Make a pie or fritters. Have your own fall party and bob for apples, or get out the double boiler and get gooey with caramel apples.

3. Find a fall festival. Though most pumpkin-patch merriment dies down after Halloween, there are all kinds of festivals going on in November. It's a big month for outdoor arts-and-crafts shows in anticipation of Christmas, but the fall theme is still alive. Check the Juried Online Arts Festivals site or for lists of festivals. You can also key in "November festivals" on a search engine and see the interesting things -- from reggae shows to chowder fests -- that pop up around the country. Try narrowing your search to your area for something doable in a day trip.

4. Go fishing. It's all about getting out in a boat on a beautiful day. Who cares if the fish are biting? Depending on your weather and what bodies of water you've got nearby, you could be paddleboating, canoeing, or just enjoying being water-borne with or without bait and tackle. Always check your state's licensing and restrictions.

5. Make a scarecrow. Where there are leaves on the ground, there are scarecrows to be made. Even if you don't have any crows to scare away, you can have as much fun with raked leaves, old jeans, a flannel shirt, and straw hat as you can with fresh snow, carrot, coals, and stocking cap. Do it in your own back yard or at an accommodating park. If you're unsure how to make a scarecrow, use your search engine to find information.

6. Go on a hayride. Even if the pumpkins have been trucked away from farms outside your city limits, you might still find hayrides in those fields. Whether you're pulled by a tractor or a horse, it's big autumn fun to sit on a hay bale as you go. When your bale mates are your kids, it's an unforgettable experience.

7. Go fly a kite. Spring's not the only time windy weather says, "Get out the kites." With some colorful kites in the trunk and a good eye for a field without many trees and power lines to get tangled up in, you're all set for an invigorating autumn day. Pack the video camera and reel out the string. Since it's not springtime, finding kites on the store shelf might be a problem. Not to worry. Online vendors abound.

8. Hit the horse stables. Look for a local stable in your Yellow Pages for a place the offers horseback riding. If you and your family members are not trained riders, there's no time like the present to get on a sweet-natured horse and take a lesson. Or, let an experienced rider lead you on a little jaunt through nature.

9. Take in an airshow. Watch the papers or call the nearest air base or aviation museum to find out when high-flyers might be in formation in the skies near you. With stunts and crispness in the air and your family in comfy lawn chairs on terra firma, you'll all be flying high.

10. Pack a picnic. Who says it has to be summer to open a picnic basket full of fried chicken, potato salad, and iced tea on a quilt in a scenic spot not too far from home? If there's a chill in the air, trade the iced tea for Thermoses of hot chocolate. Throw in something pumpkin -- bread or muffins are always a hit -- to celebrate the season. Bundle up in sweatshirts and lie on your back watching clouds float across the autumn sky. What pictures do you and the kids see up there?

Fall is all about feeding your mind, body, and soul before the dead of winter. Do it outdoors with your family, and the spiritual nourishment of time well-spent together will power you through when the coming cold drives you indoors.

Finding Fall Activities Near Where You Live Finding out what's going on in your area in the fall can take a little research, but it pays off in memorable time spent as a family.

Scan the local papers. Pick up a local paper from your town and from nearby areas. Check the activity listings for outdoor goings-on that pique your interest. Fall is prime time for festivals of all kinds.

Pull out the map. A map of your region is indispensable when it comes to giving you ideas for hopping in the car with the kids for a day of adventure close to home.

Talk to people in-the-know. Your local librarian, parks and recreation department, Chamber of Commerce, visitor's center, welcome wagon, and your neighbors are great potential sources of ideas and information. Ask around and you'll find folks who can point you to fall festivals and other events as well as places to enjoy the outdoors.

Go online. Log on to a search engine -- Google, Yahoo, Lycos, AltaVista, Excite, WebCrawler are a few to try -- and plug in keywords for autumn calendars in your area. You can also try searching out parks, orchards, fishing spots, nature trails, and other specific activity-related venues by typing keywords for the area and the activity in which you're interested.

Beeline for bulletin boards. Wherever you find them -- at the grocery store, the gym, your children's school, rec center, city hall, library, coffeehouse, local universities and junior colleges -- bulletin boards and kiosks boast a calendar full of possibilities.

Keep your eyes peeled for signs. When you're driving around, keep your eyes open for signs that advertise local festivals and other events. This is a good season to pull over at historical markers, read them, and think about what life was like at this spot in autumns past.

Find flyers. Advertising is everywhere people congregate. In the same places you can probably find bulletin boards, you'll see flyers inviting the public to everything from chili cookoffs and fish boils to tractor pulls and lawn-mower races.

Check the church. Churches, temples, and community centers often sponsor terrific activities all year round. From bounce houses in the parking lot to craft shows in the fellowship hall, you'll discover trip-worthy ideas. Call around to faith-based organizations -- or read the signs out front -- to see what they've got cooking this fall.

The best tip of all is to just get out there and go. Throw some water, snacks, sweaters, a camera, and a quilt in the car and be prepared for some serious autumnal fun.


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