School is in full swing, steaming servings of porridge have returned to our breakfast bowls, and thermals have been dug out of winter wardrobes in anticipation of Arctic air blasting the country. We may have well and truly waved goodbye to summer, but that doesn’t mean we have said farewell to outdoor adventures!
In fact, October might just be the best month of all to be getting outside. Here are some reasons that make autumn a top contender for the best time of year to explore the great outdoors with young ones …
Arts, crafts … and maths
The seasonal shift from summer to autumn is possibly the most notable perennial change. Why’s that you might ask? Surely, we could say the same of winter to spring. Well, you only have to look at the leaves to see why. The change from the vibrant green of summer to the yellows and russet browns of early autumn can often be so abrupt, that suddenly the world has become an artist’s palette. This makes autumnal walks a great opportunity for colour exploration. Help children identify different shades that they can see when you take them out – would you say this leaf is red or brown? What colour do we get if we mix this red leaf with this yellow one?
Remember to take photos too so that when you come home you can look at them and do some painting, working out how to mix certain colours. Colour mixing and exploration is really important for early development. It actually helps to prime the basic mathematical concepts of ‘more’ and ‘less’, laying the foundations for understanding measurements. To exercise creative thinking and to help develop vocabulary, encourage young ones to come up with their own names for different shades and colours that they mix together.
And with the treasure trove that you can find on an autumnal woodland floor, you’re guaranteed even more fun. Collect beautifully coloured leaves either to press or to use for leaf rubbings and prints; gather bits of bark, twigs, conkers and pine cones as well to make your very own 3-D woodland scene, either on paper or in a shoe box; collect as many conkers together as possible to glue together to make conker caterpillars that you can then varnish and paint.
Gathering items is another great way to engage children in primary mathematical thinking. Test their counting skills out the fun way by asking them to find you a certain number of each object, for instance 3 conkers, 5 leaves, 8 twigs etc. For ultimate effectiveness, we recommend getting a prize involved (for all participants of course!).
The night before you plan to go on your walk, why not read an autumn-inspired children’s book to get ideas for what you might find along they way? ‘We love Leaves: An Autumn Pop-Up Book’ by Janet Lawler or ‘The Gruffalo Autumn and Winter Nature Trail sticker book’, both available from Stanfords.
A sensory playground
Is it just us or are leaves especially fun when they are a bit crispy. Come on, who can actually resist stepping down on a dried-out leaf to hear that satisfying crunch? Aside from satisfying our crunching needs, the autumn landscape is a brilliant space for getting your child’s five senses engaged. My friend, who’s an expert at the best free solitaire games around, says that sensory play is vital for establishing new neurological pathways that allow young ones to think more complexly and enhances their abilities to make memories. Getting them to pick up and feel different objects like twigs and bark, and even scooping up mud, is brilliant for developing their fine motor skills too. Asking children to explain and describe what they are feeling with their hands is another way to improve their vocabulary repertoire.
Another reason sensory play is very important, is that it actually helps children to calm themselves down as they learn to self-regulate through engaging with their sensory system.
Aside from exploring the exciting textures, smells and sights that we find in nature during this time of year, sensory play is also about body awareness and balance. Body awareness is the message our brains get from our stretch and pressure receptors in muscles and joints from interacting with the world around us. This helps children understand themselves in relation to their environment and hones their idea of the physical space they take up. Encourage children to pick things up and throw things around (only outside!) to foster their body awareness. Fallen logs make the perfect opportunity to ‘walk the plank’ in a game of pirate ships or perhaps you’ve joined the circus and are practicing walking across tightropes? Either way, this is a fantastic way to help children develop their balance.
Why not organise a school litter pick this autumn and kill two birds with one stone? (Please don’t actually kill any birds).
Litter picking involves stretching down and picking things up so is a great way for developing body awareness, balance and motor skills, and you’re also keeping the environment clean and tidy – a win-win!
Understanding the world
This time of significant seasonal change is a great opportunity to nurture children’s inquisitive nature and teach them about what happens during autumn. When you’re outside, point out the differences taking place in nature and encourage question asking:
- Why do the leaves change colour and fall off the trees?
- Why do some trees keep their leaves?
- Why do animals go to sleep for a long time?
- Why does it get dark earlier?
Ask them why they think this might be before you explain to challenge their thinking and also to create a dialogue between you and your child. Engaging in this way is fundamental to cognitive development and will help cultivate conversational ability.
Let’s get cooking
Whilst we advocate rubbing hands in the earth and rolling around in leaves, we would advise against putting nature’s paraphernalia in mouths, no matter how much that mud looks like chocolate pie.
That being said, autumn is still the tastiest month of all. With harvest season falling at the end of September and stretching as late as November for some crops, this is the time of year to be making the most of nature’s bounty, bringing it back to our kitchens and cooking up all kinds of deliciousness. This is the perfect time to teach our children about where food comes from and get them involved in some hands-on nature to kitchen fun. It is also a good way to educate young ones about the importance of eating seasonal and local produce.
If you’re camping or living on the move, Cotswold Outdoor stock a fantastic range of lightweight and innovative products for their camp kitchen, perfect for keeping the most adventurous campfire chefs happy.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away. It also counts if in pie form.
The apple harvest typically takes place between September and November, with October being the optimal harvest month for most varieties. So, if apple pie/tart/crumble wasn’t already on your mind, it is now – what better excuse could there be for pastry baking? We don’t know about you but we’re drooling already. Pastry baking is great fun for children too as they can play with cut-offs of the dough to make shapes and woodland creatures that you can pop in the oven to bake alongside your pie.
Move over grapes, berries are most certainly nature’s candy at this time of year.
Blackberries and raspberries are the latest of the berry family to ripen, with a peak harvest time of September/October. Either add berries to your apple pie, or if you’ve got a glut of fruit, why not make some jam to enjoy on hot buttered toast?
Squash and Pumpkins
Nothing spells Halloween quite like a field of pumpkins.
Find a pumpkin patch near you where you can PYOP (Pick Your Own Pumpkin) as farms open up their fields to the public for the opportunity to come and hand select a prize pumpkin. Whether your pumpkin is transformed into a spooky decoration to thrill trick or treaters, or it ends up as (another) pie, pumpkin picking makes for a great day out with children.
Check out Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park for a day of pumpkin-filled play. Members get first pick of the harvest on the 19th and 20th of October before it is opened to all visitors from the 21st.
October is certainly the month to get creative with squash with many varieties ready to harvest in mid to late autumn. These hardy veggies are easy to store over the winter months, but otherwise, why not make a warming squash stew or soup? Cotswold Outdoor have some great options for thermal jars to keep food hot until lunchtime when out on one of our spooky Halloween walks!
We love some of the children’s accessories from Cotswold Outdoor, perfect for keeping warm as it gets a little nippier. Check out these spooky gloves and hat that will turn your little ones into real little monsters in time for the Halloween festivities.
Fungi … fun guy … okay, we won’t even attempt at making a joke. Especially since the abundance of mushrooms in Autumn isn’t that funny …
Don’t get us wrong we love mushrooms as much as the next person – in risotto, on toast, as soup, in a pie with chicken (drooling again). But as many varieties of fungi are poisonous we recommend pointing the plants out to children but stressing that they never touch them. If you’d like to learn how to properly identify edible mushrooms for your culinary ventures, we’d recommend looking for a foraging course with an expert guide. There are many courses available across the UK with several suitable for children too. We also suggest taking a look at the Woodland Trust website for their advice on foraging for all different times of the year.
And finally … dog walking
Who didn’t go through the dog-phase? We know we did, and if we’re totally honest, we’re still in it. With piles of leaves and lots of exciting scents to sniff, autumn’s is a sensory playground for our four-legged friends too. If you needed an excuse to kit your dog out with some new gear, head to Cotswold Outdoor to browse their range of dog walking accessories.
Children are sure to get excited by all these real-life teddy bears running around (we know we do). Make sure to always ask owners if the dog is safe to pet before letting your child have a stroke. Remember, some dogs look cute like teddies but might be a little snappy and not great with children!
So, whether it’s arts and crafts, picking your own pumpkins, cooking seasonal produce or dog walking you choose to do this Autumn, we hope you enjoy this very special time of year in the great outdoors.
P.S. See you at the Harrogate Showground for Countryside Live with Julia Bradbury on the 19th-20th October! With loads of exciting activities for children, this will be the perfect weekend for all the family to celebrate our wonderful countryside.