Fall is my favorite time of year! I spend as much time as possible outdoors because you never know when winter will arrive! It's a great time for apple picking, pumpkin carving, and enjoying fall colors. The leaves are changing and falling, and they provide many fun play opportunities. We’ve compiled some of our favorite outdoor fall activities that we hope you and your family will enjoy, too!
Collect natural items.
Children love to collect things! As all the leaves are falling, why not make a simple leaf collection? Look for orange ones and red ones, big ones and small ones, or maples and oaks. All the while, you are outside in the fresh air, getting exercise, and having a fun adventure. While you are collecting leaves, you might even stumble upon a carpet of acorns under an old oak tree. Remember, only take materials from nature if nature isn’t using them at the moment and remember to return them when you’re finished. If you want to save your nature treasures, consider choosing a special place, inside or outside of your home, where children can store their nature finds and continue to play with them later.
Bring nature inside.
After collecting some leaves, you can trace the leaves or do leaf rubbings. You can paint them, color them or put glitter on them. Press them between the pages of a book for later enjoyment. Check out the post below to see how to preserve leaves and keep them looking fresh!
Go to a pumpkin patch and pick out the perfect pumpkin to carve.
There are several great local ones. Most offer hayrides, corn mazes, petting zoos and haunted houses. I always enjoyed going to Bengtson Pumpkin Farm with my daughters. Find you favorite spot! Start a new tradition! And remember, you don’t have to travel far to find a pumpkin—we’re selling them right here at Lincoln Park Zoo in our Fall Fest pumpkin patch!
Observe local wildlife.
Watch and listen for squirrels and rabbits and be aware of the many different types of birds and insects. Some birds migrate south for winter; some migrate from Canada to Chicago for the winter; and some stick around all year. Get a bird ID book to help you track these seasonal changes.
Get out and play!
Imagine that you are following a bear in the woods, tiptoeing through the forest. Shuffle through leaves making as much noise as you like, or rake them into a pile and pounce. With a little bundling up, fall still holds a lot of potential for outdoor fun.
Pick apples at a local orchard.
Explore the orchard and all the different types of apples—big ones, small ones, sweet and sour, and all the beautiful fall colors! While you are there, sample some seasonal treats. Apple cider and homemade apple cider donuts are always good!
Cook with your kids using seasonal fruits and veggies.
Take the fresh fall apples you picked and use them to make chunky applesauce, apple pie or apple crisp. Grown-ups can do the slicing, but little helpers can stir the cinnamon sugar topping and sprinkle it on top. Check out the local outdoor Green City Market through the end of October to see what’s in season.
Find a special outdoor place.
When I was a girl, we had an open field on our corner that all the neighborhood kids (and grown-ups) referred to as “the prairie.” Find your own prairie, or forest, or secret garden, in your yard, at the park, or at a local forest preserve.
Explore natural areas in Chicagoland.
Take a walk on the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo and enjoy the native plants and wildlife. Bring your binoculars, real or imaginary. Visit the Morton Arboretum or the Chicago Botanic Garden. Last week, I was walking in the woods by the Old Graue Mill in Oakbrook and spotted three Great White Egrets, fishing in Salt Creek. You never know what you'll find and that is the beauty of nature.
Last, but not least, visit Lincoln Park Zoo!
The red panda and takins are especially great to visit in the cooler weather, but all our animals love fall and winter visitors. Walk in the woods in the Children’s Zoo and look for red wolves and bears. Don’t forget to participate in Fall Fest activities! The corn maze, pumpkin patch, fun slide, and tractor ride are all sure to be a hit with your little one!
These are all great ways to connect to nature and many can happen right in your own backyard. When you come inside you can bring nature with you and continue the fun and learning. Nature play never needs to end!