Simple Fall Fun

by Brenda Maas

With crunchy apples, crisp red and gold leaves blowing around and a short hour or two outside after dinner before dark, fall brings many changes. Now that the kids are back in school and the days are shorter, most families have found their rhythm.

“Fall is getting back into a scheduled home environment. It’s cooler and more fun to be outside,” notes Kathy Aders with the Parent Connection. “When school starts up, the schedule falls into place.” Even with babies and toddlers, the cycles of nature—shorter and cooler days—lend a stronger rhythm to daily life.

Autumn is also a great time for simple family activities; nothing elaborate is necessary. Start by remembering that you are not Martha Stewart. She has a large, paid staff; we have young children instead. This is our reality.

Next, realize that you do not have reinvent the wheel for your kids. What are some of the things that you remember most about fall from your childhood? Chances are that the activities that you enjoyed with your family are ones that your children will like, also. Add your own narrative (“When I was a little girl I went with my parents to the pumpkin patch and it was so wet that I fell in the mud and looked like a monster…”). Being able to share and laugh about your childhood experiences with your children brings you back to their level. It helps them feel like you understand them and their still-maturing feelings. And, be sure to listen to what they are telling you about their lives.

Aders also notes that the emphasis should not be on the activity itself but rather on your interactions as a family. “The time and interaction are the important things,” she says. “A simple board or card game can turn out to be a real enjoyable time with them. It can take a lot of time and patience, but there’s a lot of interaction. You will get to know your kids at a different level when you are together like that.”

Bernie Mason, Family and Consumer Science Extension Agent with Yellowstone County, offers a checklist of sorts for parents (see sidebar) but stresses that being together, either one-on-one or as a family unit, regardless of the activity or time of year, is simply what children seek.

For some simple family fun this fall, try one of these oldies, but goodies. And, don’t sit back and watch. Get in on the fun with your kids!

Bobbing for Apples—save this one for an Indian Summer day and it could keep kids busy for hours. All you need is a clean tub, water and a several apples, with the reward being  lots of laughs and a crunchy, nutritious snack at the end.

Sack Races—No burlap sacks? Try old pillowcases. Or, grab a partner and go three-legged! This is great for coordination and a faster heart rate.

Broomstick Races—Another heart pumper is to just jump on your broomstick and take off with the season. No training necessary.

Face Painting—Not necessarily for artists only. Materials are inexpensive and available at most craft stores. From toddlers on up, this one always creates a smile. Role reversals are good, so be sure to let your little ones paint your face, too!

Memory Game—This one is good to calm things down. Simply fill a tray with 20-30 random items—paper clip; Scrabble letter; hairpin; football card; bottle of hydrogen peroxide marked as “Toad’s Wart Ointment” and so on. Cover the tray with a towel and have everyone sit around a table. The goal is to give them about one minute to look at all the items, memorizing as many as they can. Then remove or cover the tray and give participants two minutes to write down as many objects as they can remember.  Be sure to team little kids with older ones so all can play.

Rake it Up—Chores are a bore. However, you can motivate kids of all ages with a little fun. Give everyone a rake (or take turns) for the fall leaves, then jump in. When you done, bag ‘em or mow over them. Or, if you don’t have mature trees, grab a rake and head to one of Billings many city parks—free leaf fun for all!

Scavenger Hunt—Although this may work better for school-aged kids, a list with pictures will help the younger set. Or, team with an older partner to scour your backyard, a park or even your neighbor’s (no ding-dong-ditching) to find all listed items.

Mini-pumpkin Hunt—Similar to an Easter Egg Hunt, mark the bottom of two or three mini-pumpkins for each participant then hide them in the yard or park. Kids can use their trick-or-treat bucket for collecting. Repeat for even more fun, or take turns being the “hider.”

Pin the Nose on the Pumpkin—This is a variation of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Simply draw a large pumpkin on a sheet of paper or poster board (better yet, have one of the kids draw and color), then cut out as many black triangles as participants. Add a circle of tape on the back of the nose plus a blindfold and you are set. (Note:  most little people prefer to opt-out of the pre-pinning spinning.)

Hanging Out—Remember making yard pom-poms as a kid? Use black yarn and glue on some googly eyes and you have your own spider. Stuff some newspaper into the corner of a white plastic trash bag, draw some eyes with a black marker and you have a ghost. Kids will love making and hanging up these simple Halloween decorations—so save the trip the store and work with what you have at home.

Pumpkin Carving—Let’s face it, this is the heart of fall fun. However, it can be overwhelming to parents during the busy fall season. So, break it into different events:  selecting the pumpkins one day (of course the trip to the pumpkin patch can be its own adventure); cleaning out one night; planning, or even pre-drawing the face the next; then the actual carving. Whether you are the simple butcher knife-triangle nose type or the sophisticated, master carver, everything goes! For the preschoolers, paint and props like wigs and eye patches are a safe and fun alternative. Parents:  be sure to create your own jack-o-lantern—seeing the entire “family” on the front porch gives your kids something to be proud of and sends a great message about family togetherness.

Regardless of the children’s ages or the activity, Aders says, simply being with your kids and paying attention to their individuality is the goal. “Parents sometimes think they will be too silly or immature if they do something fun, but the kids look forward to that sort of stuff,” she notes. “With my own kids, I can see their humor. And I’m able to laugh at myself or someone making a mistake. They learn that it’s ok to make mistakes and laugh within the safety of our own family.”

Bernie Mason, Family and Consumer Science Extension Agent with Yellowstone County, notes that parents should look for activities that contain the following elements:

<!---->Safety—whether it is helmets and riding rules or assistance with carving, the family activity should always be safe.

<!---->All-inclusive—look for things that every member of the family can participate in. Also, be realistic in expectations of your kids’ ages and attention spans.

<!---->Physical—getting outside for some of the races noted above or bike riding or hiking, for example, is good for the body and mind.

<!---->Affordable—many activities cost parents more in time, organization and patience than they do in dollars. However, adding the stress of an expensive adventure makes everyone feel like they must have fun—and it usually backfires. Less is best.