Turn a big year for acorns in Chicago into fall crafts and games

Next time you’re out and about, look down at your feet. Oak trees in Chicagoland and nationwide dropped an unusually high number of acorns this year, in what botanists call a “mast year.”

“This is one of the heaviest years I’ve seen for acorns, not just in the Chicago region, but in other states as well,” says Kris Bachtell, vice president of collections and facilities at the Morton Arboretum.

What gives? Bachtell says there could be many reasons for the large acorn crop, but he points to the warm, dry spring in Chicago last year, which encourage trees to pollinate.

So what to do with all these acorns? We chatted with Lesley Kolaya, manager of the Arboretum’s children’s garden, for some inspiration.

Acorn People

Take the caps off acorns, leaving the nut for the squirrels and other animals, and make your own family of “acorn people.” Just attach a bit of sticky tac to the underside of the caps, pop on your fingers, draw a face on your finger pad and put on an acorn people puppet show.

“It’s the simplest thing ever, but kids just love it,” Kolaya says.The “fuzzy” caps of acorns from bur oaks are especially fun, she says.

Miniature Pumpkin Patch

A palmful of these tiny pumpkins in a bowl make an adorable centerpiece for any Halloween or Thanksgiving table. Just pop the caps off some acorns, apply a coat of orange acrylic paint, let dry and use a permanent black marker to draw on faces.

Seed Matching Game

For most nature enthusiasts, budding or full-grown, fall is all about leaves. But seeds can be just as fun. Kolaya suggets this seed matching game:

Take a walk with your child and collect two of any seeds you find (acorns count!). When you get home, place one of each pair of seeds in front of your child and the other in a sock, pillowcase or other cloth encasing that lets your child feel but not see the seed. Then have your child guess which seed goes with which.

No need for a botany lesson, Kolaya says: “Just getting kids to see that there are lots of different types of seeds, of different shapes and sizes and colors, helps them understand the diversity they see in nature.”

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