There's no better time to mix fun and learning in the great outdoors than fall in Chicago. From leaves to pumpkins, here are eight easy ideas to get you started:
Take a hike around your neighborhood and capture fall images forever. At home, work with your tween to make a photobook by teaching them to upload their photos onto any online photo-sharing site (Shutterfly, Snapfish, etc.) where they can be arranged, printed and assembled into a pretty, bound memory book.
Check out: The Kids' Guide to Digital Photography: How to Shoot, Save, Play With & Print Your Digital Photos by Jenni Bidner.
Create a unique poem by listing everything we say goodbye to as summer ends (such as, Goodbye lazy days! Goodbye swimming pool!) and everything we welcome with the fall (such as, Welcome hot apple cider! Welcome bright orange pumpkins!). Have each family member contribute at least one line (Goodbye______, welcome ________).
Check out: Shrinking Days, Frosty Nights: Poems about Fall by Laura Purdie Salas.
Gather fall leaves of all shapes, sizes and colors. At home, cover your ironing board with a rag. Place each leaf between two sheets of wax paper. Cover the wax-papered leaves with a towel and iron on the medium setting (no steam) for about seven seconds. Cut out the individual leaves, leaving a small margin so they remain sealed in the wax paper. Identify each leaf and use to decorate your dinner table.
As you explore, gather pine cones, pretty leaves, acorns, twigs and any other natural objects. At home, create a garland by tying the items to a string, spacing accordingly. You may want to press the leaves in wax paper to better preserve them. Hang along a stair railing or frame a large window.
Check out: It's Fall by Linda Glaser.
Glue a tree trunk cut from a large brown paper bag onto a large poster board. Gather a cluster of colorful leaves. Using a Sharpie, have everyone write something they are thankful for on each leaf. Glue the leaves onto your "tree." This can be a great door decoration.
Check out: Gracias/Thanks by Pat Mora.
North Park Nature Center in Chicago offers family kayak or canoe trips on Lake Michigan, Jackson Park Lagoon and along the Chicago River for age 8 and up. Equipment and instruction are provided. Visit ChicagoParkDistrict.com for more information.
Check out: The Canoe Trip Mystery by Gertrude Warner.
On Oct. 8-9, families can undertake a Journey on the Underground Railroad at Graue Mill in Oak Brook. Experience what it was like to be a "passenger" on escaped slaves' "railroad" to freedom. Meet Harriet Tubman and follow Hinsdale blacksmith John Coe as you are guided along Salt Creek and into the mill, which once served as a "station." Call (630) 655-2090 for details or to reserve your space or visit grauemill.org.
Check out: The Underground Railroad: An Interactive History Adventure (You Choose Books) by Allison Lassieur.
Before you carve your pumpkins, play a family guessing game and estimate the number of seeds in each pumpkin. Then dig them out and count. Who was the best estimator? Afterwards, roast your seeds on a well olive-oiled tray and bake for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees.