There’s no question that being outdoors is good for kids. It helps keep them active, healthy, and happy.
Unfortunately, according to the Child Mind Institute, the average American child spends only four to seven minutes per day in unstructured outdoor activities. Kids need some time outside, and so do adults. When families are outdoors together, it helps create and strengthen family bonds. It builds teamwork and develops a sense of discovery.
Unstructured activities in the great outdoors that are child-directed with few rules and goals are beneficial to a child’s development.
As a family, structured activities that are flexible and fun with opportunities for unstructured play can offer the same benefits.
There are ways to get outdoors in every season, no matter the environment. Even though the temperatures might be dropping and daylight seems rare in the fall, all is not lost. Families can take advantage of the not-too-hot, not-too-cold weather and the crisp air with some outdoor activities that get the whole family outside to have fun and create memories.
LittleThings has gathered some nature-focused ideas for you to get outside with the crew and seize the season. Here are 10 family- and budget-friendly outdoor activities to try with your family this fall.
1. Have a Ball — Literally
Bundle up and grab a ball. Games like four square work even for families who live in the city or are otherwise short on green space. All you need is sidewalk chalk, a ball, and four players. One player stands in each square, and the first player starts by hitting the ball into another square. Each player must hit the ball out of their square and into another without hitting it out of the bounds of the larger square. For a less-structured version of four square, skip the square part and instead let the kids choose a boundary or no boundary at all.
2. See the Stars
The stars are always up there somewhere at night. Choose a spot in your own yard or somewhere with a clear view of the night sky to set up. For a more formal approach to seeing the stars, Mental Floss offers several great tips. A star chart, or a star chart app, is the best way to have a guided experience to stargazing, but looking into the night sky and talking about what you see as a family is just as informative and maybe even more fun.
3. Go Camping
You don’t want to wing camping with kids. Check the weather, choose the appropriate camping spot, make sure your tent is big enough, plan the food, and pack the necessities. The Pragmatic Parent has some helpful hacks for camping with kids. Even though camping can’t be an unstructured free-for-all, there’s still plenty of room for children to help lead the experience — from helping with the packing to choosing the games and activities.
4. Set a Bonfire
Fall weather calls for lighting the night sky with the flames of a bonfire and the smell of the smoking wood. With small kids, you might opt for a smaller campfire. Check your local laws to make sure you start and maintain your fire within regulations. Making s’mores and telling spooky stories are quintessential fall activities, but you can let the kids decide on a slate of activities, including some of these from Homesteading.
5. Start a Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger hunts send teams in search of various objects around a designated area. Make them fun for the whole family by coming up with interesting objects in nature. Let the kids brainstorm ideas, like a mostly yellow leaf or a rock shaped like an egg, and go exploring. These items will come in handy for another project mentioned below. Older kids might get a kick out of planning and leading a treasure hunt for the adults. Today’s Parent has some ideas for a fun treasure hunt that uses riddle-like clues to send participants searching for the treasure at the end.
6. Collect Some Bugs
There are no rules to bug collecting except to be kind to the bugs. Kids who aren’t squeamish will appreciate the chance to be little scientists and play with insects. All parents need to do is come prepared with the proper tools for collecting: a net, a container with breathing holes, a magnifying glass, and an optional camera or notebook for capturing the beauty of the little crawlies.
7. Get Artsy With Nature
The great outdoors is truly beautiful. Engage the whole family’s imagination and creativity by walking outside and collecting some leaves, flowers, rocks, sticks, and pine cones. Provide paint, glitter, colorful paper, and yarn, and get artsy with your outdoor finds.
8. Build Something!
Kids love building. Take that love of building with blocks and put it to use on a larger scale. Let them hunt for large sticks and anything else outside that they can use to make a fort, scarecrow, or other creation. Parents can sit back and watch and avoid the temptation to intervene in the building process, or they can act as helpers to the kids in charge.
9. Make a Bird Feeder
Contrary to popular belief, it’s perfectly fine to feed birds in the fall. Having a steady food source will not stop them from migrating. In fact, it can help give them the energy they need to fly. It’s also a good time of the year to get a glimpse of visiting birds and birds you rarely see around. Try this DIY bird feeder at home!
10. Visit a Farm
According to Business Insider, there are about 2 million farms in the US, most of them small and family-owned. No matter where you are, there’s probably a farm nearby that’s open to visitors. Pumpkin farms and corn mazes are seasonal options, while any farm with barnyard or petting zoo animals will keep the kids interested and enjoying the fall outdoors.