Don't let fall weather keep you and the kids indoors. There are a variety of fun family-friendly fall activities that are easy on the pocketbook.
The hot, hazy days of summer may be over, but cooler temperatures don’t mean it’s time to hibernate indoors. With its vibrant colours and crisp cool air, the fall season offers plenty of opportunities for families to connect with nature.
Visit farmers’ markets
Fall’s harvest provides a great opportunity to expand kids’ palates. From sweet potatoes, radishes, and winter squashes to fruits such as apples and cranberries, some of Canada’s most flavourful produce is available in the fall. Farmers’ markets are a great place to learn about these delicious harvest foods directly from the people who grow them.
Tips and tricks: Ask farmers to share their favourite ways of preparing the fruits of their labours. Kids will love trying their hand at preparing seasonal favourites such as butternut squash soup, apple pie, or pumpkin bread.
Participate in haunted festivities
With Halloween around the corner, fall is a perfect time to get a little spooky. Many community centres and theme parks offer kid-friendly Halloween festivities. Camp Spooky at Canada’s Wonderland, for example, offers haunted rides, kid-size mazes, and a daily kids’ costume parade.
But Halloween isn’t the only spooky celebration at this time of year. The Day of the Dead (or Dia de los Muertos) is observed throughout Mexico and some parts of Latin America. Mexicans believe the souls of our dearly departed return to earth on November 1 and 2 to visit loved ones. Families build altars for their departed loved ones and adorn them with colourful paper flowers, smiling skeletons, and candles.
Tips and tricks: Making your own altar at home can be a joyful way to honour a deceased family member without upsetting kids. Explain that the altar is a way of celebrating the life of their loved one. To learn more about the festivity, some centres such as the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto put on free events including dance, live music, paper crafts, storytelling, and even face painting for the kids.
Visit the pumpkin patch
A pumpkin patch is a fun place to spend an afternoon. Through the month of October, you can pick your own pumpkin to carve as a jack-o’-lantern for Halloween or simply to eat (roasted pumpkin seeds are a seasonal favourite).
Tips and tricks: Tom Pate, pumpkin grower and owner of Brantwood Farms in Ontario, says to look for a pumpkin with a thick, solid handle and no defects such as holes or soft spots. While you can often pick up a pumpkin from a grocery store, “it’s a lot more fun going out and searching a big field of pumpkins,” says Pate.
Many pumpkin patches also offer hay rides, face painting, and even petting zoos. For those with a creative bent, Brantwood Farms offers a variety of pumpkin shapes and types such as pumpkins with warts or white pumpkins that Pate says can be made into ghosts. “You can do almost anything carving a pumpkin,” he says.
Hike along some of Canada’s best trails
Fall is nature’s playground. From September to mid-October, hiking trails are lined with colourful leaves in pumpkin oranges, candy apple reds, and golden yellows.
Tips and tricks: Some of Canada’s best hiking trails include
- the Fundy Trail in New Brunswick, located less than an hour’s drive from Saint John, with 10 miles (16 km) of seaside beauty
- the Bruce Trail in Ontario, Canada’s oldest and longest hiking trail
- Lighthouse Park in Vancouver, a network of hiking trails that wind through massive Douglas fir and western red cedar trees, leading to spectacular ocean views
Jump in the leaves
A yard full of leaves that need raking can be made into a fun-filled afternoon. Have kids rake the leaves into a huge stack, and then as a reward for their hard work— leap in!
Tips and tricks: Artsy kids can have fun with leaves, too. Round up a collection of colourful leaves in good condition. Make sure they’re dry, and then press them between two sheets of newspapers. You can place some heavy books on top of the leaves for about 24 hours to flatten them completely, before placing them in an album or a photo frame to display all year long.
Visit a local farm
Many farms open their doors in the fall for tours. Brooks Farms in Mount Albert, Ontario, offers many kid-friendly activities including a petting zoo, train rides, and hay races. Escaping to the country allows you to take in the fresh air and show kids a different lifestyle.
“It’s a unique experience,” says Paul Brooks of Brooks Farms, which also offers apple, squash, and pumpkin picking. “It’s also a great way for kids to find out where their food is grown.”
Picking your own produce is an inexpensive, traditional, and environmentally friendly activity, says Scott Lunau of Albion Orchards, an Ontario farm that opens its doors to apple pickers in the fall. “Most of our produce is imported, but in the fall, we can and should eat locally grown,” he says.
Tips and tricks: Do your homework to find out the right time to visit the farm. Most have websites that post picking conditions and the varieties of apples that are ripe and ready to harvest. Remember to ask the orchard’s staff about the proper technique for picking apples.
“Don’t just grab and pull it,” says Lunau. When you pull one apple off the tree aggressively, about 10 more will fall to the ground. “When they fall hard, they bruise, and then they’re no good,” he adds.
Give little ones their own small baskets to hold a few apples so they can feel part of the experience. Don’t forget to pick up a few yummy apple products such as ciders, jellies, and pies.